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C. Northcote Parkinson 
Raffles Professor of History 
University of Malaya 
Robert C. Osborn 



(c) 1957 by C. Northcote Parkinson 

The Riverside Press 
Cambridge - Massachusetts 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 57-9981 
Printed in the U.S.A. 

for Ann 


TO THE VERY YOUNG, to schoolteachers, as also to those who compile 
textbooks about constitutional history, politics, and current affairs, the 
world is a more or less rational place. They visualize the election of 
representatives, freely chosen from among those the people trust. They 
picture the process by which the wisest and best of these become ministers 
of state. They imagine how captains of industry, freely elected by 
shareholders, choose for managerial responsibility those who have proved 
their ability in a humbler role. Books exist in which assumptions such as 
these are boldly stated or tacitly implied. To those, on the other hand, 
with any experience of affairs, these assumptions are merely ludicrous. 
Solemn conclaves of the wise and good are mere figments of the teacher's 
mind. It is salutary, therefore, if an occasional warning is uttered on this 
subject. Heaven forbid that students should cease to read books on the 
science of public or business administration— provided only that these 
works are classified as fiction. Placed between the novels of Rider Haggard 
and H. G. Wells, intermingled with volumes about ape men and space ships, 
these textbooks could harm no one. Placed elsewhere, vii among works of 
reference, they can do more damage than might at first sight seem possible. 

Dismayed to realize what other people suppose to be the truth about 
civil servants or building plans, I have occasionally fried to provide, for 
those interested, a glimpse of reality. The reader of discrimination will 
guess that these glimpses of the truth are based on no ordinary experience. 
In the expectation, moreover, that some readers will have less 
discrimination than others, I have been careful to hint, occasionally. 


casually, at the vast amount of research upon which my theories are founded. 
Let the reader picture to himself the wall charts, card index cabinets, 
calculating machines, slide rules, and reference works that may be thought 
the indispensable background to a study such as this. Let him then be 
assured that the reality dwarfs all his imagining, and that the truths here 
revealed are the work not merely of an admittedly gifted individual but of a 
vast and costly research establishment. An occasional reader may feel that 
more detailed description should have been given of the experiments and 
calculations upon which these theories rest. Let him reflect, however, that 
a volume so elaborate would take longer to read and cost more to buy. 

While it is undeniable that each one of these essays embodies the 
results from years of patient investigation, it must not be supposed that 
all has yet been told. The recent discovery in a certain field of warfare 
that the number of the enemy killed varies inversely with the number of 
generals on one's own side has opened a whole new field of research. A new 
significance has been quite recently attributed to the illegibility of 
signatures, the attempt being made to fix the point in a successful 
executive career at viii which the handwriting becomes meaningless even to 
the executive himself New developments occur almost daily, making it 
virtually certain that later editions of this work will quickly supersede 
the first. 

I wish to thank the editors who have given permission to reprint 

certain of these essays. Pride of place must go to the editor of The 
Economist, the journal in which Parkinson's law was first revealed to 
mankind. To the same editor I am indebted for permission to reprint the 
essay on "Directors and Councils," as also that on "Pension Point." Certain 
of the other articles have also appeared previously in Harper's Magazine and 
The Reporter. 

To the artist, Robert C. Osborn, I am deeply grateful for adding a 

touch of frivolity to a work that might otherwise have seemed too technical 
for the general reader. To the publishers I am indebted for their 
encouragement, without which I should have attempted little and achieved 
still less. Last of all, I place on record the gratitude I feel toward the 
higher mathematician with whose science the reader is occasionally blinded 
and to whom (but for other reasons) this book is dedicated. 














Preface vii 

Parkinson's Law, or The Rising Pyramid 2 

The Will of the People, or Annual General Meeting 14 

High Finance, or The Point of Vanishing Interest 24 
Directors and Councils, or Coefficient of Inefficiency 33 

The Short List, or Principles of Selection 45 

Plans and Plants, or The Administration Block 59 

Personality Screen, or The Cocktail Formula 70 

Injelititis, or Palsied Paralysis 78 

Palm Thatch to Packar4 or A Formula for Success 91 


10. Pension Point, or The Age of Retirement 101 


WORK EXPANDS so as to fill the time available for its completion. 

General recognition of this fact is shown in the proverbial phrase "It is 
the busiest man who has time to spare." Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can 
spend the entire day in writing and dispatching a postcard to her niece at 
Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in 
hunting for spectacles, half an hour in a search for the address, an hour 
and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not 
to take an umbrella when going to the mailbox in the next street. The total 
effort that would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this 
fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety, and 

Granted that work (and especially paperwork) is thus elastic in its 
demands on time, it is manifest that there need be little or no relationship 
between the work to be done and the size of the staff to which it may be 
assigned. A lack of real activity does not, of necessity, result in leisure. 
A lack of occupation is not necessarily revealed by a manifest idleness. The 
thing to be done swells in importance and complexity in a direct ratio with 
the time to be spent. This fact 2 is widely recognized, but less attention 
has been paid to its wider implications, more especially in the field of 
public administration. Politicians and taxpayers have assumed (with 
occasional phases of doubt) that a rising total in the number of civil 
servants must reflect a growing volume of work to be done. Cynics, in 
questioning this belief, have 3 imagined that the multiplication of 
officials must have left some of them idle or all of them able to work for 
shorter hours. But this is a matter in which faith and doubt seem equally 
misplaced. The fact is that the number of the officials and the quantity of 
the work are not related to each other at all. The rise in the total of 
those employed is governed by Parkinson's Law and would be much the same 
whether the volume of the work were to increase, diminish, or even 
disappear. The importance of Parkinson's Law lies in the fact that it is a 
law of growth based upon an analysis of the factors by which that growth is 

The validity of this recently discovered law must rest mainly on 
statistical proofs, which will follow. Of more interest to the general 
reader is the explanation of the factors underlying the general tendency to 
which this law gives definition. Omitting technicalities (which are 
numerous) we may distinguish at the outset two motive forces. They can be 
represented for the present purpose by two almost axiomatic statements, 
thus: (1) "An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals" and (2) 
"Officials make work for each other." 

To comprehend Factor 1, we must picture a civil servant, called A, who 
finds himself overworked. Whether this overwork is real or imaginary is 
immaterial, but we should observe, in passing, that As sensation (or 
illusion) might easily result from his own decreasing energy: a normal 


symptom of middle age. For this real or imagined overwork there are, broadly 
speaking, three possible remedies. He may resign; he may ask to halve the 
work with a colleague called B; he may demand the assistance of two 
subordinates, to be called C and D. There is probably no instance 4 in 
history, however, of A choosing any but the third alternative. By 
resignation he would lose his pension rights. By having B appointed, on his 
own level in the hierarchy, he would merely bring in a rival for promotion 
to Ws vacancy when W (at long last) retires. So A would rather have C and 
D, junior men, below him. They will add to his consequence and, by dividing 
the work into two categories, as between C and D, he will have the merit of 
being the only man who comprehends them both. It is essential to realize at 
this point that C and D are, as it were, inseparable. To appoint C alone 
would have been impossible. Why? Because C, if by himself, would divide the 
work with A and so assume almost the equal status that has been refused in 
the first instance to B; a status the more emphasized if C is A's only 
possible successor. Subordinates must thus number two or more, each being 
thus kept in order by fear of the other's promotion. When C complains in 
turn of being overworked (as he certainly will) A will, with the concurrence 
of C, advise the appointment of two assistants to help C. But he can then 
avert internal friction only by advising the appointment of two more 
assistants to help D, whose position is much the same. With this recruitment 
of E, F, G, and H the promotion of A is now practically certain. 

Seven officials are now doing what one did before. This is where Factor 
2 comes into operation. For these seven make so much work for each other 
that all are fully occupied and A is actually working harder than ever. An 
incoming document may well come before each of them in turn. Official E 
decides that it falls within the province of F, who places a draft reply 
before C, who amends it drastically before consulting D, who asks G to deal 
with it. But G goes 5 on leave at this point, handing the file over to H, 
who drafts a minute that is signed by D and returned to C, who revises his 
draft accordingly and lays the new version before A. 

What does A do? He would have every excuse for signing the thing 
unread, for he has many other matters on his mind. Knowing now that he is to 
succeed W next year, he has to decide whether C or D should succeed to his 
own office. He had to agree to G's going on leave even if not yet strictly 
entitled to it. He is worried whether H should not have gone instead, for 
reasons of health. He has looked pale recently— partly but not solely 
because of his domestic troubles. Then there is the business of F's special 
increment of salary for the period of the conference and E's application for 
transfer to the Ministry of Pensions. A has heard that D is in love with a 
married typist and that G and F are no longer on speaking terms— no one 
seems to know why. So A might be tempted to sign C's draft and have done 
with it. But A is a conscientious man. Beset as he is with problems created 
by his colleagues for themselves and for him— created by the mere fact of 
these officials' existence— he is not the man to shirk his duty. He reads 
through the draft with care, deletes the fussy paragraphs added by C and H, 
and restores the thing back to the form preferred in the first instance by 
the able (if quarrelsome) F. He corrects the English— none of these young 
men can write grammatically— and finally produces the same reply he would 
have written if officials C to H had never been born. Far more people have 
taken far longer to produce the same result. No one has been idle. All have 
done their best. And it is late in the evening before A finally quits his 
office and begins the return journey to Ealing. The last of 6 the office 
lights are being turned off in the gathering dusk that marks the end of 


another day's administrative toil. Among the last to leave, A reflects with 
bowed shoulders and a wry smile that late hours, like gray hairs, are among 
the penalties of success. 

From this description of the factors at work the student of political 
science will recognize that administrators are more or less bound to 
multiply. Nothing has yet been said, however, about the period of time 
likely to elapse between the date of A's appointment and the date from which 
we can calculate the pensionable service of H. Vast masses of statistical 
evidence have been collected and it is from a study of this data that 
Parkinson's Law has been deduced. Space will not allow of detailed analysis 
but the reader will be interested to know that research began in the British 
Navy Estimates. These were chosen because the Admiralty's responsibilities 
are more easily measurable than those of, say, the Board of Trade. The 
question is merely one of numbers and tonnage. Here are some typical 
figures. The Strength of the Navy in 1914 could be shown as 146,000 officers 
and men, 3249 dockyard officials and clerks, and 57,000 dockyard workmen. By 
1928 there were only 100,000 officers and men and only 62,439 workmen, but 
the dockyard officials and clerks by then numbered 4558. As for warships, 
the strength in 1928 was a mere fraction of what it had been in 1914- fewer 
than 20 capital ships in commission as compared with 62. Over the same 
period the Admiralty officials had increased in number from 2000 to 3569, 
providing (as was remarked) "a magnificent navy on land." These figures are 
more clearly set forth in tabular form. 7 

Capital ships in Officers and men Dockyard Dockyard officials Admiralty 
commission inR.N. workers and clerks officials 

1914 62 146,000 57,000 3249 2000 

1928 20 100,000 62,439 4558 3569 


Increase or 

-67.74% -31.5% +9.54% +40.28% +78.45% 

The criticism voiced at the time centered on the ratio between the 
numbers of those available for fighting and those available only for 
adminisfration. But that comparison is not to the present purpose. What we 
have to note is that the 2000 officials of 1914 had become the 3569 of 1928; 
and that this growth was unrelated to any possible increase in their work. 
The Navy during that period had diminished, in point of fact, by a third in 
men and two-thirds in ships. Nor, from 1922 onward, was its strength even 
expected to increase; for its total of ships (unlike its total of officials) 
was limited by the Washington Naval Agreement of that year. Here we have 
then a 78 per cent increase over a period of fourteen years; an average of 
5.6 per cent increase a year on the earher total. In fact, as we shall see, 
the rate of increase was not as regular as that. All we have to consider, at 
this stage, is the percentage rise over a given period. 

Can this rise in the total number of civil servants be accounted for 
except on the assumption that such a total must always rise by a law 
governing its growth? It might be urged at this point that the period under 
discussion 8 9 was one of rapid development in naval technique. The use of 
the flying machine was no longer confined to the eccentric. Electrical 
devices were being multiplied and elaborated. Submarines were tolerated if 
not approved. Engineer officers were beginning to be regarded as almost 
human. In so revolutionary an age we might expect that storekeepers would 


have more elaborate inventories to compile. We might not wonder to see more 
draughtsmen on the payroll, more designers, more technicians and scientists. 
But these, the dockyard officials, increased only by 40 per cent in number 
when the men of Whitehall increased their total by nearly 80 per cent. For 
every new foreman or electrical engineer at Portsmouth there had to be two 
more clerks at Charing Cross. From this we might be tempted to conclude, 
provisionally, that the rate of increase in administrative staff is likely 
to be double that of the technical staff at a time when the actually useful 
strength (in this case, of seamen) is being reduced by 3 1.5 per cent. It has 
been proved statistically, however, that this last percentage is irrelevant. 
The officials would have multiplied at the same rate had there been no 
actual seamen at all. 

It would be interesting to follow the further progress by which the 
8118 Admiralty staff of 1935 came to number 33,788 by 1954. But the staff of 
the Colonial Office affords a better field of study during a period of 
imperial decline. Admiralty statistics are complicated by factors (like the 
Fleet Air Arm) that make comparison difficult as between one year and the 
next. The Colonial Office growth is more significant in that it is more 
purely administrative. Here the relevant statistics are as follows: 10 

1935 1939 1943 1947 1954 
372 450 817 1139 1661 

Before showing what the rate of increase is, we must observe that the 
extent of this department's responsibilities was far from constant during 
these twenty years. The colonial territories were not much altered in area 
or population between 1935 and 1939. They were considerably diminished by 
1943, certain areas being in enemy hands. They were increased again in 1947, 
but have since then shrunk steadily from year to year as successive colonies 
achieve self-government. It would be rational to suppose that these changes 
in the scope of Empire would be reflected in the size of its central 
administration. But a glance at the figures is enough to convince us that 
the staff totals represent nothing but so many stages in an inevitable 
increase. And this increase, although related to that observed in other 
departments, has nothing to do with the size— or even the existence— of 
the Empire. What are the percentages of increase? We must ignore, for this 
purpose, the rapid increase in staff which accompanied the diminution of 
responsibility during World War II. We should note rather, the peacetime 
rates of increase: over 5.24 per cent between 1935 and 1939, and 6.55 per 
cent between 1947 and 1954. This gives an average increase of 5.89 per cent 
each year, a percentage markedly similar to that already found in the 
Admiralty staff increase between 1914 and 1928. 

Further and detailed statistical analysis of departmental staffs would 
be inappropriate in such a work as this. It 1 1 is hoped, however, to reach a 
tentative conclusion regarding the time likely to elapse between a given 
official's first appointment and the later appointment of his two or more 

Dealing with the problem of pure staff accumulation, all our researches 
so far completed point to an average increase of 5.75 per cent per year. 
This fact establishe4 it now becomes possible to state Parkinson's Law in 
mathematical form: In any public administrative department not actually at 
war, the staff increase may be expected to follow this formula— 



k is the number of staff seeking promotion through the appointment of 
subordinates; / represents the difference between the ages of appointment 
and retirement; m is the number of man-hours devoted to answering minutes 
within the department; and n is the number of effective units being 
administered, x will be the number of new staff required each year. 
Mathematicians will realize, of course, that to find the percentage increase 
they must multiply X by 100 and divide by the total of the previous year, 

100 (2k'"+l)/y n % 

where y represents the total original staff. This figure will invariably 
prove to be between 5. 17 per cent and 6.56 per cent, irrespective of any 
variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done. 12 

The discovery of this formula and of the general principles upon which 
it is based has, of course, no political value. No attempt has been made to 
inquire whether departments ought to grow in size. Those who hold that this 
growth is essential to gain full employment are fully entitled to their 
opinion. Those who doubt the stability of an economy based upon reading each 
other's minutes are equally entitled to theirs. It would probably be 
premature to attempt at this stage any inquiry into the quantitative ratio 
that should exist between the administrators and the administered. Granted, 
however, that a maximum ratio exists, it should soon be possible to 
ascertain by formula how many years will elapse before that ratio, in any 
given community, will be reached. The forecasting of such a result will 
again have no political value. Nor can it be sufficiently emphasized that 
Parkinson's Law is a purely scientific discovery, inapplicable except in 
theory to the politics of the day. It is not the business of the botanist to 
eradicate the weeds. Enough for him if he can tell us just how fast they 
grow. 13 


WE ARE ALL familiar with the basic difference between English and 
French parliamentary institutions; copied respectively by such other 
assemblies as derive Irom each. We all realize that this main difference has 
nothing to do with national temperament, but stems from their seating plans. 
The British, being brought up on team games, enter their House of Commons in 
the spirit of those who would rather be doing something else. If they cannot 
be playing golf or tennis, they can at least pretend that politics is a game 
with very similar rules. But for this device. Parliament would arouse even 
less interest than it does. So the British instinct is to form two opposing 
teams, with referee and linesmen, and let them debate until they exhaust 
themselves. The House of Commons is so arranged that the individual Member 
is practically compelled to take one side or the other before he knows what 
the arguments are, or even (in some cases) before he knows the subject of 


the dispute. His training from birth has been to play for his side, and this 
saves him from any undue mental effort. Sliding into a seat toward the end 
of a speech, he knows exactly how to take up the argument from the point it 
has 14 reached. If the speaker is on his own side of the House, he will say 
"Hear, hear!" If he is on the opposite side, he can safely say "Shame!" or 
merely "Oh! " At some later stage he may have time to ask his neighbor what 
the debate is supposed to be about. Sfrictly speaking, however, there is no 
need for him to do this. He knows enough in any case not to kick into his 
own goal. The men who sit opposite are entirely wrong and all their 
arguments are so much drivel. The men on his own side are statesmanlike, by 
confrast, and their speeches a singular blend of wisdom, eloquence, and 
moderation. Nor does it make the slightest difference whether he learned his 
politics at Harrow or in following the fortunes of Aston Villa. In either 
school he will have learned when to cheer and when to groan. But the British 
system depends entirely on its seating plan. If the benches did not face 
each other, no one could tell truth from falsehood— wisdom from foUy— 
unless indeed 15 by listening to it all. But to hsten to it all would be 
ridiculous, for half the speeches must of necessity be nonsense. 

In France the initial mistake was made of seating the representatives 
in a semicircle, all facing the chair. The resulting confusion could be 
imagined if it were not notorious. No real opposing teams could be formed 
and no one could tell (without listening) which argument was the more 
cogent. There was the further handicap of all the proceedings being in 
French— an example the United States wisely refused to follow. But the 
French system is bad enough even when the linguistic difficulty does not 
arise. Instead of having two sides, one in the right and the other in the 
wrong— so that the issue is clear from the outset— the French form a 
multitude of teams facing in all directions. With the field in such 
confusion, the game cannot even begin. Basically their representatives are 
of the Right or of the Left, according to where they sit. This is a 
perfectly sound scheme. The French have not gone to the extreme of seating 
people in alphabetical order. But the semicircular chamber allows of subtle 
distinctions between the various degrees of tightness and leftness. There is 
none of the clear-cut British distinction between rightness and wrongness. 
One deputy is described, politically, as to the left of Monsieur Untel but 
well to the right of Monsieur Quelquechose. What is anyone to make of that? 
What should we make of it even in English? What do they make of it 
themselves? The answer is, "Nothing." 

All this is generally known. What is less generally recognized is that 
the paramount importance of the seating 16 plan applies to other assemblies 
and meetings, international, national, and local. It applies, moreover, to 
meetings round a table such as occur at a Round Table Conference. A moment's 
thought will convince us that a Square Table Conference would be something 
totally different and a Long Table Conference would be different again. 
These differences do not merely affect the length and acrimony of the 
discussion; they also affect what (if anything) is decided. Rarely, as we 
know, will the voting relate to the merits of the case. The final decision 
is influenced by a variety of factors, few of which need concern us at the 
moment. We should note, however, that the issue is actually decided, in the 
end, by the votes of the center bloc. This would not be true in the House of 
Commons, where no such bloc is allowed to develop. But at other conferences 


the center bloc is all important. This bloc essentially comprises the 
following elements: 

a. Those who have failed to master any one of the memoranda written in 
advance and showered weeks beforehand on all those who are expected to be 

b. Those who are too stupid to follow the proceedings at all. These are 
readily distinguishable by their tendency to mutter to each other: "What is 
the fellow talking about?" 

c. Those who are deaf They sit with their hands cupping their ears, 
growling "I wish people would speak up." 

d. Those who were dead drunk in the small hours and have turned up 
(heaven knows why) with a splitting headache and a conviction that nothing 
matters either way. 

e. The senile, whose chief pride is in being as fit as ever— fitter 
indeed than a lot of these younger men. "I 11 walked here," they whisper. 
"Pretty good for a man of eighty-two, what?" 

f The feeble, who have weakly promised to support both sides and don't 
know what to do about it. They are of two minds as to whether they should 
abstain from voting or pretend to be sick. 

Toward capturing the votes of the center bloc the first step is to 
identify and count the members. That done, everything else depends on where 
they are to sit. The best technique is to detail off known and stalwart 
supporters to enter into conversation with named middle-bloc types before 
the meeting actually begins. In this preliminary chat the stalwarts will 
carefully avoid mentioning the main subject of debate. They will be trained 
to use the opening gambits listed below, corresponding to the categories a 
to /, into which the middle bloc naturally falls: 

a. "Waste of time, I call it, producing all these documents. I have 
throvm most of mine away." 

b. "I expect we shall be dazzled by eloquence before long. I often wish 
people would talk less and come to the point. They are too clever by half, 
if you ask me." 

c. "The acoustics of this hall are simply terrible. You would have 
thought these scientific chaps could do something about it. For half the 

d. "What a rotten place to meet! I think there is something the matter 
with the ventilation. It makes me feel almost unwell. What about you?" 

e. "My goodness, I don't know how you do it! Tell me the secret. Is it 
what you have for breakfast?" 

f "There's so much to be said on both sides of the 18 question that I 
really don't know which side to support. What do you feel about it?" 

If these gambits are correctly played, each stalwart will start a 
lively conversation, in the midst of which he vwU steer his middle-blocsman 
toward the forum. As he does this, another stalwart will place himself just 
ahead of the pair and moving in the same direction. The drill is best 
illustrated by a concrete example. We will suppose that stalwart X (Mr. 
Sturdy) is steering middle-blocsman Y (Mr. Waverley, type f) toward a seat 
near the front. Ahead goes stalwart Z (Mr. Staunch), who presently takes a 
seat without appearing to notice the two men following him. Staunch turns in 
the opposite direction and waves to someone in the distance. Then he leans 
over to make a few remarks to the man in front of him. Only when Waverley 
has sat down will Staunch presently turn toward him and say, "My dear 
fellow— how nice to see you!" Only some minutes later again will he catch 
sight of Sturdy and start visibly with surprise. "Hallo, Sturdy— I didn't 


think you would be here!" "I've recovered now," replies Sturdy. "It was only 
a chill. " The seating order is thus made to appear completely accidental, 
casual, and friendly. That completes Phase I of the operation, and it would 
be much the same whatever the exact category in which the middle-blocsman is 
believed to fall. 

Phase II has to be adjusted according to the character of the man to be 
influenced. In the case of Waverley (Type f) the object in Phase II is to 
avoid any discussion of the matter at issue but to produce the impression 
that the thing is already decided. Seated near the front, Waverley will be 
unable to see much of the other members and 19 can be given the impression 
that they practically all think alike. 

"Really," says Sturdy, "I don't know why I bothered to come. I gather 
that Item Four is pretty well agreed. All the fellows I meet seem to have 
made up their minds to vote for it." (Or against it, as the case may be.) 

"Curious," says Staunch. "I was just going to say the same thing. The 
issue hardly seems to be in doubt." 

"I had not really made up my own mind," says Sturdy. 20 "There was much 
to be said on either side. But opposition would really be a waste of time. 
What do you think, Waverley?" 

"Well," says Waverley, "I must admit that I find the question rather 
baffling. On the one hand, there is good reason to agree to the motion ... 
As against that... Do you think it will pass?" 

"My dear Waverley, I would trust your judgment in this. You were saying 
just now that it is already agreed. "21 

"Oh, was I? Well, there does seem to be a majority. ... Or perhaps I 
should say ..." 

"Thank you, Waverley," says Staunch, "for your opinion. I think just 
the same but am particularly interested to find you agree with me. There is 
no one whose opinion I value more." 

Sturdy, meanwhile, is leaning over to talk to someone in the row 
behind. What he actually says, in a low voice, is this, "How is your wife 
now? Is she out of hospital?" When he turns back again, however, it is to 
announce that the people behind all think the same. The motion is as good as 
passed. And so it is if the drill goes according to plan. 

While the other side has been busy preparing speeches and phrasing 
amendments, the side with the superior technique will have concentrated on 
pinning each middle-blocsman between two reliable supporters. When the 
crucial moment comes, the raising of a hand on either side will practically 
compel the waverer to follow suit. Should he be actually asleep, as often 
happens with middle-blocsman in categories d and e, his hand will be raised 
for him by the member on his right. This rule is merely to obviate both his 
hands being raised, a gesture that has been known to attract unfavorable 
comment. With the middle bloc thus secured, the motion will be carried with 
a comfortable margin; or else rejected, if that is thought preferable. In 
nearly every matter of controversy to be decided by the will of the people, 
we can assume that the people who will decide are members of the middle 
bloc. Delivery of speeches is therefore a waste of time. The one party will 
never agree and the other party has agreed 22 already. Remains the middle 
bloc, the members of which divide into those who cannot hear what is being 
said and those who would not understand it even if they did. To secure their 
votes what is needed is primarily the example of others voting on either 


side of them. Their votes can thus be swayed by accident. How much better, 
by contrast, to sway them by design! 23 


PEOPLE WHO understand high finance are of two kinds: those who have 
vast fortunes of their own and those who have nothing at all. To the actual 
millionaire a million dollars is something real and comprehensible. To the 
applied mathematician and the lecturer in economics (assuming both to be 
practically starving) a million dollars is at least as real as a thousand, 
they having never possessed either sum. But the world is full of people who 
fall between these two categories, knowing nothing of millions but well 
accustomed to think in thousands, and it is of these that finance committees 
are mostly comprised. The result is a phenomenon that has often been 
observed but never yet investigated. It might be termed the Law of 
Triviality. Briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the 
agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved. 

On second thoughts, the statement that this law has never been 
investigated is not entirely accurate. Some work has actually been done in 
this field, but the investigators pursued a line of inquiry that led them 
nowhere. They assumed that the greatest significance should attach to the 
order in which items of the agenda are taken. They assumed, 24 further, that 
most of the available time will be spent on items one to seven and that the 
later items will be allowed automatically to pass. The result is well known. 
The derision with which Dr. Guggenheim's lecture was received at the 
Muttworth Conference may have been thought excessive at the time, but all 
further discussions on this topic have tended to show that his critics were 
right. Years had been wasted in a research of which the basic assumptions 
were wrong. We realize now that position on the agenda is a minor 
consideration, so far, at least, as this problem is concerned. We consider 
also that Dr. Guggenheim was lucky to escape as he did, in his underwear. 
Had he dared to put his lame conclusions before the later conference in 
September, he would have faced something more than derision. The view would 
have been taken that he was deliberately wasting time. 

If we are to make further progress in this investigation we must ignore 
all that has so far been done. We must start at the beginning and understand 
fully the way in which a finance committee actually works. For the sake of 
the general reader this can be put in dramatic form thus: 

Chairman We come now to Item Nine. Our Treasurer, Mr. McPhail, will report. 

Mr. McPhail The estimate for the Atomic Reactor is before you, sir, set 
forth in Appendix H of the subcommittee's report. You will see that the 
general design and layout has been approved by Professor McFission. The 
total cost will amount to $10,000,000. The contractors, Messrs. McNab and 
McHash, consider that the work should be complete 25 by April, 1959. Mr. 
McFee, the consulting engineer, warns us that we should not count on 
completion before October, at the earliest. In this view he is supported by 


Dr. McHeap, the well-known geophysicist, who refers to the probable need for 
piling at the lower end of the site. The plan of the main building is before 
you— see Appendix IX— and the blueprint is laid on the table. I shall be 
glad to give any further information that members of this committee may 

Chairman Thank you, Mr. McPhail, for your very lucid explanation of the plan 
as proposed. I will now invite the members present to give us their views. 

It is necessary to pause at this point and consider what views the 
members are likely to have. Let us suppose that they number eleven, 
including the Chairman but excluding the Secretary. Of these eleven members, 
four— including the chairman— do not know what a reactor is. Of the 
remainder, three do not know what it is for. Of those who know its purpose, 
only two have the least idea of what it should cost. One of these is Mr. 
Isaacson, the other is Mr. Brickworth. Either is in a position to say 
something. We may suppose that Mr. Isaacson is the first to speak. 

Mr. Isaacson Well, Mr. Chairman. I could wish that I felt more confidence in 
our contractors and consultant. Had we gone to Professor Levi in the first 
instance, and had the contract been given to Messrs. David and Goliath, I 
should have been happier about the whole scheme. Mr. Lyon-Daniels would not 
have wasted our time with wild guesses about the possible delay in 
completion, and Dr. 26 Moses Bulhush would have told us definitely whether 
piling would be wanted or not. 

Chairman I am sure we all appreciate Mr. Isaacson's anxiety to complete this 
work in the best possible way. I feel, however, that it is rather late in 
the day to call in new technical advisers. I admit that the main contract 
has still to be signed, but we have already spent very large sums. If we 
reject the advice for which we have paid, we shall have to pay as much 

(Other members murmur agreement.) 

Mr. Isaacson I should like my observation to be minuted. 

Chairman Certainly. Perhaps Mr. Brickworth also has something to say on this 

Now Mr. Brickworth is almost the only man there who knows what he is 
talking about. There is a great deal he could say. He distrusts that round 
figure of $10,000,000. Why should it come out to exactly that? Why need they 
demolish the old building to make room for the new approach? Why is so large 
a sum set aside for "contingencies"? And who is McHeap, anyway? Is he the 
man who was sued last year by the Trickle and Driedup Oil Corporation? But 
Brickworth does not know where to begin. The other members could not read 
the blueprint if he referred to it. He would have to begin by explaining 
what a reactor is and no one there would admit that he did not already know. 
Better to say nothing. 27 

Mr. Brickworth I have no comment to make. 

Chairman Does any other member wish to speak? Very well. I may take it then 


that the plans and estimates are approved? Thank you. May 1 now sign the 
main contract on your behalf? (Murmur of agreement) Thank you. We can now 
move on to Item Ten. 

Allowing a few seconds for rustling papers and unrolling diagrams, the 
time spent on Item Nine will have been just two minutes and a half The 
meeting is going well. But 28 some members feel uneasy about Item Nine. They 
wonder inwardly whether they have really been pulling their weight. It is 
too late to query that reactor scheme, but they would like to demonstrate, 
before the meeting ends, that they are alive to aU that is going on. 

Chairman Item Ten. Bicycle shed for the use of the clerical staff. An 
estimate has been received from Messrs. Bodger and Woodworm, who undertake 
to complete the work for the sum of $2350. Plans and specification are 
before you, gentlemen. 

Mr. Softleigh Surely, Mr. Chairman, this sum is excessive. I note that the 
roof is to be of aluminum. Would not asbestos be cheaper? 

Mr. Holdfast I agree with Mr. Softleigh about the cost, but the roof should, 
in my opinion, be of galvanized iron. I incline to think that the shed could 
be built for $2000, or even less. 

Mr. Daring I would go further, Mr. Chairman. I question whether this shed is 
really necessary. We do too much for our staff as it is. They are never 
satisfied, that is the trouble. They will be wanting garages next. 

Mr. Holdfast No, I can't support Mr. Daring on this occasion. I think that 
the shed is needed. It is a question of material and cost... 

The debate is fairly launched. A sum of $2350 is well within 
everybody's comprehension. Everyone can visualize a bicycle shed. Discussion 
goes on, therefore, for forty- five 29 minutes, with the possible result of 
saving some $300. Members at length sit back with a feeling of achievement. 

Chairman Item Eleven. Refreshments supplied at meetings of the Joint Welfare 
Committee. Monthly, $4.75. 

Mr. Softleigh What type of refreshment is supplied on these occasions? 
Chairman Coffee, I understand. 

Mr. Holdfast And this means an annual charge of- let me see— $57? 
Chairman That is so. 

Mr. Daring Well, really, Mr. Chairman. I question whether this is justified. 
How long do these meetings last? 

Now begins an even more acrimonious debate. There may be members of the 
committee who might fail to distinguish between asbestos and galvanized 
iron, but every man there knows about coffee— what it is, how it should be 


made, where it should be bought— and whether indeed it should be bought at 
all. This item on the agenda will occupy the members for an hour and a 
quarter, and they will end by asking the Secretary to procure further 
information, leaving the matter to be decided at the next meeting. 

It would be natural to ask at this point whether a still smaller sum— 
$20, perhaps, or $10- would occupy the Finance Committee for a 
proportionately longer time. On this point, it must be admitted, we are 
still ignorant. Our tentative conclusion must be that there is a point at 
which the whole tendency is reversed, the committee members 30 concluding 
that the sum is beneath their notice. Research has still to establish the 
point at which this reversal occurs. The transition from the $50 debate (an 
hour and a quarter) to the $20 debate (two and a half minutes) is indeed an 
abrupt one. It would be the more interesting to establish the exact point at 
which it occurs. More than that, it would be of practical value. Supposing, 
for example, that the point of vanishing interest is represented by the sum 
of $35, the Treasurer with an item of $62.80 on the agenda might well decide 
to present it as two items, one of $30.00 and the other of $32.80, with an 
evident saving in time and effort. 

3 1 Conclusions at this juncture can be merely tentative, but there is 

some reason to suppose that the point of vanishing interest represents the 
sum the individual committee member is willing to lose on a bet or subscribe 
to a charity. An inquiry on these lines conducted on racecourses and in 
Methodist chapels, might go far toward solving the problem. Far greater 
difficulty may be encountered in attempting to discover the exact point at 
which the sum involved becomes too large to discuss at all. One thing 
apparent, however, is that the time spent on $10,000,000 and on $10 may well 
prove to be the same. The present estimated time of two and a half minutes 
is by no means exact, but there is clearly a space of time— something 
between two and foiir and a half minutes— which suffices equally for the 
largest and the smallest sums. 

Much further investigation remains to be done, but the final results, 
when published, cannot fail to be of absorbing interest and of immediate 
value to mankind. 32 


THE LIFE CYCLE of the committee is so basic to our knowledge of current 
affairs that it is surprising more attention has not been paid to the 
science of comitology. The first and most elementary principle of this 
science is that a committee is organic rather than mechanical in its nature: 
it is not a structure but a plant. It takes root and grows, it flowers, 
wilts, and dies, scattering the seed fi-om which other committees will bloom 
in their turn. Only those who bear this principle in mind can make real 
headway in understanding the structure and history of modern goverimient. 

Committees, it is nowadays accepted, fall broadly into two categories, 


those (a) from which the individual member has something to gain; and those 
(b) to which the individual member merely has something to contribute. 
Examples of the B group, however, are relatively unimportant for our 
purpose; indeed some people doubt whether they are committees at all. It is 
from the more robust A group that we can learn most readily the principles 
which are common (with modifications) to all. Of the A group the most deeply 
rooted and luxuriant committees are those which confer the most power and 
prestige upon their members. 33 In most parts of the world these conmiittees 
are called "cabinets." This chapter is based on an extensive study of 
national cabinets, over space and time. 

When first examined under the microscope, the cabinet council usually 
appears— to comitologists, historians, and even to the people who appoint 
cabinets— to consist ideally of five. With that number the plant is viable, 
allowing for two members to be absent or sick at any one time. Five members 
are easy to collect and, when collected, can act with competence, secrecy, 
and speed. Of these original members four may well be versed, respectively, 
in finance, foreign policy, defense, and law. The fifth, who has failed to 
master any of these subjects, usually becomes the chairman or prime 
minister. 34 

35 Whatever the apparent convenience might be of restricting the 
membership to five, however, we discover by observation that the total 
number soon rises to seven or nine. The usual excuse given for this 
increase, which is almost invariable (exceptions being found, however, in 
Luxembourg and Honduras), is the need for special knowledge on more than 
four topics. In fact, however, there is another and more potent reason for 
adding to the team. For in a cabinet of nine it will be found that policy is 
made by three, information supplied by two, and financial warning uttered by 
one. With the neutral chairman, that accounts for seven, the other two 
appearing at first glance to be merely ornamental. This allocation of duties 
was first noted in Britain in about 1639, but there can be no doubt that the 
folly of including more than three able and talkative men in one committee 
had been discovered long before then. We know little as yet about the 
function of the two silent members but we have good reason to believe that a 
cabinet, in this second stage of development, might be unworkable without 

There are cabinets in the world (those of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Northern 
Ireland, Liberia, the Philippines, Uruguay, and Panama will at once be 
called to mind) which have remained in this second stage— that is, have 
restricted their membership to nine. These remain, however, a small 
minority. Elsewhere and in larger territories cabinets have generally been 
subject to a law of growth. Other members come to be admitted, some with a 
claim to special knowledge but more because of their nuisance value when 
excluded. Their opposition can be silenced only by implicating them in every 
decision that is made. As they 36 are brought in (and placated) one after 
another, the total membership rises from ten toward twenty. In this third 
stage of cabinets, there are already considerable drawbacks. 

The most immediately obvious of these disadvantages is the difficulty 
of assembling people at the same place, date, and time. One member is going 
away on the 18th, whereas another does not return until the 21st. A third is 
never free on Tuesdays, and a fourth never available before 5 P.M. But that 
is only the beginning of the trouble, for, once most of them are collected. 


there is a far greater chance of members proving to be elderly, tiresome, 
inaudible, and deaf Relatively few were chosen from any idea that they are 
or could be or have ever been useful. A majority perhaps were brought in 
merely to conciliate some outside group. Their tendency is therefore to 
report what happens to the group they represent. All secrecy is lost and, 
worst of all, members begin to prepare their speeches. They address the 
meeting and tell their friends afterwards about what they imagine they have 
said. But the more these merely representative members assert themselves, 
the more loudly do other outside groups clamor for representation. Internal 
parties form and seek to gain strength by further recruitment. The total of 
twenty is reached and passed. And thereby, quite suddenly, the cabinet 
enters the fourth and final stage of its history. 

For at this point of cabinet development (between 20 and 22 members) 
the whole committee suffers an abrupt organic or chemical change. The nature 
of this change is easy to trace and comprehend. In the first place, the five 
members who matter will have taken to meeting beforehand. With decisions 
already reached, little remains for 37 the nominal executive to do. And, as 
a consequence of this, all resistance to the committee's expansion comes to 
an end. More members will not waste more time; for the whole meeting is, in 
any case, a waste of time. So the pressure of outside groups is temporarily 
satisfied by the admission of their representatives, and decades may elapse 
before they realize how illusory their gain has been. With the doors wide 
open, membership rises from 20 to 30, from 30 to 40. There may soon be an 
instance of such a membership reaching the thousand mark. But this does not 
matter. For the cabinet has already ceased to be a real cabinet, and has 
been succeeded in its old functions by some other body. 

Five times in English history the plant has moved through its life 
cycle. It would admittedly be difficult to prove that the first incarnation 
of the cabinet— the English Council of the Crown, now called the House of 
Lords— ever had a membership as small as five. When we first hear of it, 
indeed, its more intimate character had aheady been lost, with a hereditary 
membership varying from 29 to 50. Its subsequent expansion, however, kept 
pace with its loss of power. In round figures, it had 60 members in 1601, 
140 in 1661, 220 in 1760, 400 in 1850, 650 in 1911, and 850 in 1952. 

At what point in this progression did the inner committee appear in the 
womb of the peerage? It appeared in about 1257, its members being called the 
Lords of the King's Council and numbering less than 10. They numbered no 
more than 11 in 1378, and as few still in 1410. Then, from the reign of 
Henry V, they began to multiply. The 20 of 1433 had become the 41 of 1504, 
the total reaching 172 before the council finally ceased to meet. 38 

Within the King's Council there developed the cabinet's third 
incarnation— the Privy Council— with an original membership of nine. It 
rose to 20 in 1540, to 29 in 1547, and to 44 in 1558. The Privy Council as 
it ceased to be effective increased proportionately in size. It had 47 
members in 1679, 67 in 1723, 200 in 1902, and 300 in 1951. 

Within the Privy Council there developed the junto or Cabinet Council, 
which effectively superseded the former in about 1615. Numbering 8 when we 
first hear of it, its members had come to number 12 by about 1700, and 20 by 
1725. The Cabinet Council was then superseded in about 1740 by an inner 
group, since called simply the Cabinet. Its development is best studied in 
tabular form. This is shown in Table I. 

1740 5 1885 16 1945 16 


1784 7 1900 20 1945 20 
1801 12 1915 22 1949 17 
1841 14 1935 22 1954 18 
1939 23 

From 1939, it will be apparent, there has been a struggle to save this 
institution; a struggle similar to the attempts made to save the Privy 
Council during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Cabinet appeared to be in 
its decline in 1940, with an inner cabinet (of 5, 7, or 9 members) ready to 
take its place. The issue, however, remains in doubt. It is just possible 
that the British cabinet is still an important body. 

Compared with the cabinet of Britain, the cabinet of the 39 United 
States has shown an extraordinary resistance to political inflation. It had 
the appropriate number of 5 members in 1789, still only 7 by 1840, 9 by 
1901, 10 by 1913, 1 1 by 1945, and then— against tradition— had come down 
to 10 again by 1953. Whether this attempt, begun in 1947, to restrict the 
membership will succeed for long is doubtful. All experience would suggest 
the inevitability of the previous trend. In the meanwhile, the United States 
enjoys (with Guatemala and El Salvador) a reputation for 
cabinet-exclusiveness, having actually fewer cabinet ministers than 
Nicaragua or Paraguay. 

No. of Members 

6 Honduras, Luxembourg 

7 Haiti, Iceland, Switzerland 

9 Costa Rica, Ecuador, N. Ireland, Liberia, Panama, Philippines, Uruguay 

10 Guatemala, El Salvador, United States 

1 1 Brazil, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Paraguay 

12 Bolivia, Chile, Peru 

13 Colombia, Dominican R., Norway, Thailand 

14 Denmark, India, S. Africa, Sweden 

15 Austria, Belgium, Finland, fran. New Zealand, Portugal, Venezuela 

16 Iraq, Netherlands, Turkey 

17 Eire, Israel, Spain 

18 Egypt) Gt. Britain, Mexico 

19 W. Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Italy 

20 Australia, Formosa, Japan 

21 Argentina, Burma, Canada, France 

22 China 

24 E. Germany 

26 Bulgaria 

27 Cuba 

29 Rumania 

32 Czechoslovakia 

35 Yugoslavia 

38 USSR 


How do other countries compare in this respect? The majority of 
non-totalitarian countries have cabinets that number between 12 and 20 
members. Taking the average 40 of over 60 countries, we find that it comes 
to over 16; the most popular numbers are 15 (seven instances) and 9 (seven 
again). Easily the queerest cabinet is that of New Zealand, one member of 
which has to be announced as "Minister of Lands, Minister of Forests, 
Minister of Maori Affairs, Minister in charge of Maori Trust Office and of 
Scenery Preservation." The toastmaster at a New Zealand banquet must be 
equally ready to crave silence for "The Minister of Health, Minister 
Assistant to the Prime Minister, Minister in Charge of State Advances 
Corporation, Census, and Statistics Department, Public Trust Office and 
Publicity and Information." In other lands this oriental profusion is 
fortunately rare. 

A study of the British example would suggest that the point of 
ineffectiveness in a cabinet is reached when the total membership exceeds 20 
or perhaps 21. The Council of the Crown, the King's Council, the Privy 
Council had each passed the 20 mark when their decline began. The present 
British cabinet is just short of that number now, having recoiled from the 
abyss. We might be tempted to conclude from this that cabinets - or other 
committees ~ with a membership in excess of 21 are losing the reality of 
power and that those with a larger membership have already lost it. No such 
theory can be tenable, however, without statistical proof Table II on the 
preceding page attempts to furnish part of it. 

Should we be justified in drawing a line in that table under the name 
of France (21 cabinet members) with an explanatory note to say that the 
cabinet is not the real power in countries shown below that line? Some 
comitologists would accept that conclusion without further 41 research. 
Others emphasize the need for careful investigation, more especially around 
the borderline of 21. But that the coefficient of inefficiency must he 
between 19 and 22 is now very generally agreed. 

What tentative explanation can we offer for this hypothesis? Here we 
must distinguish sharply between fact and theory, between the symptom and 
the disease. About the most obvious symptom there is little disagreement. It 
is known that with over 20 members present a meeting begins to change 
character. Conversations develop separately at either end of the table. To 
make himself heard, the member has therefore to rise. Once on his feet, he 
cannot help making a speech, if only from force of habit. "Mr. Chairman," he 
will begin, "1 think I may assert without fear of contradiction— and I am 
speaking now from twenty-five (1 might almost say twenty-seven) years of 
experience— that we must view this matter in the gravest light. A heavy 
responsibility rests upon us, sir, and I for one..." Amid all this drivel 
the useful men present, if there are any, exchange little notes that read, 
"Lunch with me tomorrow— we'll fix it then." 

What else can they do? The voice drones on interminably. The orator 
might just as well be talking in his sleep. The committee of which he is the 
most useless member has ceased to matter. It is finished. It is hopeless. It 
is dead. 

So much is certain. But the root cause of the trouble goes deeper and 
has still, in part, to be explored. Too many vital factors are unknown. What 
is the shape and size of the table? What is the average age of those 
present? At what hour does the committee meet? In a book for the 42 
non-specialist it would be absurd to repeat the calculations by which the 


first and tentative coefficient of inefficiency has been reached. It should 
be enough to state that prolonged research at the Institute of Comitology 
has given rise to a formula which is now widely (although not universally) 
accepted by the experts in this field. It should perhaps be explained that 
the investigators assumed a temperate climate, leather-padded chairs and a 
high level of sobriety. On this basis, the formula is as follows: 

x=(m°(a-d))/(y+p b^'^) 

Where m = the average number of members actually present; o = the number of 
members influenced by outside pressure groups; a = the average age of the 
members; d = the distance in centimeters between the two members who are 
seated farthest from each other; y = the number of years since the cabinet 
or committee was first formed; p = the patience of the chairman, as measured 
on the Peabody scale; b = the average blood pressure of the three oldest 
members, taken shortly before the time of meeting. Then x = the number of 
members effectively present at the moment when the efficient working of the 
cabinet or other committee has become manifestly impossible. This is the 
coefficient of inefficiency and it is found to lie between 19.9 and 22.4. 
(The decimals represent partial attendance; those absent for a part of the 

It would be unsound to conclude, from a cursory inspection of this 
equation that the science of comitology is in an advanced state of 
development. Comitologists and subcomitologists would make no such claim, if 
only from 43 fear of unemployment. They emphasize, rather, that their 
studies have barely begun and that they are on the brink of astounding 
progress. Making every allowance for self-interest— which means discounting 
90 per cent of what they say— we can safely assume that much work remains 
to do. 

We should eventually be able, for example, to learn the formula by 
which the optimum number of committee members may be determined. Somewhere 
between the number of 3 (when a quorum is impossible to collect) and 
approximately 2 1 (when the whole organism begins to perish), there lies the 
golden number. The interesting theory has been propounded that this number 
must be 8. Why? Because it is the only number which all existing states (See 
Table II above) have agreed to avoid. Atfractive as this theory may seem at 
first sight, it is open to one serious objection. Eight was the number 
preferred by King Charles I for his Committee of State. And look what 
happened to him! 44 


A PROBLEM constantly before the modern administration, whether in 
government or business, is that of personnel selection. The inexorable 
working of Parkinson's Law ensures that appointments have constantly to be 
made and the question is always how to choose the right candidate from all 


who present themselves. In ascertaining the principles upon which the choice 
should be made, we may properly consider, under separate heads, the methods 
used in the past and the methods used at the present day. 

Past methods, not entirely disused, fall into two main categories, the 
British and the Chinese. Both deserve careful consideration, if only for the 
reason that they were obviously more successful than any method now 
considered fashionable. The British method (old pattern) depended upon an 
interview in which the candidate had to establish his identity. He would be 
confronted by elderly gentlemen seated round a mahogany table who would 
presently ask him his name. Let us suppose that the candidate replied, "John 
Seymour." One of the gentlemen would then say, "Any relation of the Duke of 
Somerset?" To this the candidate would say, quite possibly, "No, sir." Then 
another 45 gentleman would say, "Perhaps you are related, in that case, to 
the Bishop of Watminster?" If he said "No, sir" again, a third would ask in 
despair, "To whom then are you related?" In the event of the candidate's 
saying, "Well, my father is a fishmonger in Cheapside," the interview was 
virtually over. The members of the Board would exchange significant glances, 
one would press a bell and another tell the footman, "Throw this person 
out." One name could be crossed off the list without further discussion. 
Supposing the next candidate was Henry Molyneux and a nephew of the Earl of 
Sefton, his chances remained fair up to the moment when George Howard 
arrived and proved to be a grandson of the Duke of Norfolk. The Board 
encountered no serious difficulty until they had to compare the claims of 
the third son of a baronet with the second but illegitimate son of a 
viscount. Even then they could refer to a Book of Precedence. So their 
choice was made and often with the best results. 

The Admiralty version of this British method (old pattern) was 
different only in its more restricted scope. The Board of Admirals were 
unimpressed by titled relatives as such. What they sought to establish was a 
service connection. The ideal candidate would reply to the second question, 
"Yes, Admiral Parker is my uncle. My father is Captain Foley, my grandfather 
Commodore Foley. My mother's father was Admiral Hardy. Commander Hardy is 
uncle. My eldest brother is a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, my next 
brother is a cadet at Dartmouth and my younger brother wears a sailor suit. " 
"Ah!" the senior Admiral would say. "And what made you think of joining the 
Navy?" The answer to this question, however, would 46 47 scarcely matter, 
the clerk present having already noted the candidate as acceptable. Given a 
choice between two candidates, both equally acceptable by birth, a member of 
the Board would ask suddenly, "What was the number of the taxi you came in?" 
The candidate who said "I came by bus" was then thrown out. The candidate 
who said, truthfully, "1 don't know," was rejected, and the candidate who 
said "Number 2351" (lying) was promptly admitted to the service as a boy 
with initiative. This method often produced excellent results. 

The British method (new pattern) was evolved in the late nineteenth 
century as something more suitable for a democratic country. The Selection 
Committee would ask briskly, "What school were you at?" and would be told 
Harrow, Haileybury, or, Rugby, as the case might be. "What games do you 
play?" would be the next and invariable question. A promising candidate 
would reply, "1 have played tennis for England, cricket for Yorkshire, rugby 
for the Harlequins, and fives for Winchester." The next question would then 
be "Do you play polo?"-- just to prevent the candidate's thinking too highly 


of himself. Even without playing polo, however, he was evidently worth 
serious consideration. Little time, by contrast, was wasted on the man who 
admitted to having been educated at Wiggleworth. "Where?" the chairman would 
ask in astonishment, and "Where's that?" after the name had been repeated. 
"Oh, in Lancashire!" he would say at last. Just for a matter of form, some 
member might ask, "What games do you play?" But the reply "Table tennis for 
Wigan, cycling for Blackpool, and snooker for Wiggleworth" would finally 
delete his name from the list. There might even 48 be some muttered comment 
upon people who deliberately wasted the committee's time. Here again was a 
method which produced good results. 

The Chinese method (old pattern) was at one time so extensively copied 
by other nations that few people realize its Chinese origin. This is the 
method of Competitive Written Examination. In China under the Ming Dynasty 
the more promising students used to sit for the provincial examination, held 
every third year. It lasted three sessions of three days each. During the 
first session the candidate wrote three essays and composed a poem of eight 
couplets. During the second session he wrote five essays on a classical 
theme. During the third, he wrote five essays on the art of government. The 
successful candidates (perhaps two per cent) then sat for their final 
examination at the imperial capital. It lasted only one session, the 
candidate writing one essay on a current political problem. Of those who 
were successfiil the majority were admitted to the civil service, the man 
with the highest marks being destined for the highest office. The system 
worked fairly well. 

The Chinese system was studied by Europeans between 1815 and 1830 and 
adopted by the English East India Company in 1832. The effectiveness of this 
method was investigated by a committee in 1 854, with Macaulay as chairman. 
The result was that the system of competitive examination was introduced 
into the British Civil Service in 1855. An essential feature of the Chinese 
examinations had been their literary character. The test was in a knowledge 
of the classics, in an ability to write elegantly (both prose and verse) and 
in the stamina necessary to complete the course. All these features were 
faithfully incorporated in 49 the Trevelyan-Northcote Report, and thereafter 
in the system it did so much to create. It was assumed that classical 
learning and literary ability would fit any candidate for any administrative 
post. It was assumed (no doubt rightly) that a scientific education would 
fit a candidate for nothing— except, possibly, science. It was known, 
finally, that it is virtually impossible to find an order of merit among 
people who have been examined in different subjects. Since it is 
impracticable to decide whether one man is better in geology than another 
man in physics, it is at least convenient to be able to rule them both out 
as useless. When all candidates alike have to write Greek or Latin verse, it 
is relatively easy to decide which verse is the best. Men thus selected on 
their classical performance were then sent forth to govern India. Those with 
lower marks were retained to govern England. Those with still lower marks 
were rejected altogether or sent to the colonies. While it would be totally 
wrong to describe this system as a failure, no one could claim for it the 
success that had attended the systems hitherto in use. There was no 
guarantee, to begin with, that the man with the highest marks might not turn 
out to be off his head; as was sometimes found to be the case. Then again 
the writing of Greek verse might prove to be the sole accomplishment that 
some candidates had or would ever have. On occasion, a successful applicant 
may even have been impersonated at the examination by someone else, 
subsequently proving unable to write Greek verse when the occasion arose. 


Selection by competitive examination was never therefore more than a 
moderate success. 

Whatever the faults, however, of the competitive written examination, 
it certainly produced better results than any 50 method that has been 
attempted since. Modern methods center upon the intelligence test and the 
psychological interview. The defect in the intelligence test is that high 
marks are gained by those who subsequently prove to be practically 
illiterate. So much time has been spent in studying the art of being tested 
that the candidate has rarely had time for anything else. The psychological 
interview has developed today into what is known as ordeal by house party. 
The candidates spend a pleasant weekend under expert observation. As one of 
them trips over the doormat and says "Bother!" examiners lurking in the 
background whip out their notebooks and jot down, "Poor physical 
coordination" and "Lacks self-control." There is no need to describe this 
method in detail, but its results are all about us and are obviously 
deplorable. The persons who satisfy this type of examiner are usually of a 
cautious and suspicious temperament, pedantic and smug, saying little and 
doing nothing. It is quite common, when appointments are made by this 
method, for one man to be chosen from five hundred applicants, only to be 
sacked a few weeks later as useless even beyond the standards of his 
department. Of the various methods of selection so far tried, the latest is 
unquestionably the worst. 

What method should be used in the future? A clue to a possible line of 
investigation is to be found in one little-publicized aspect of contemporary 
selective technique. So rarely does the occasion arise for appointing a 
Chinese translator to the Foreign Office or State Department that the method 
used is little known. The post is advertised and the applications go, let us 
suppose, to a committee of five. Three are civil servants and two are 
Chinese scholars 51 of great eminence. Heaped on the table before this 
committee are 483 forms of application, with testimonials attached. All the 
applicants are Chinese and all without exception have a first degree from 
Peking or Amoy and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Cornell or Johns Hopkins. 
The majority of the candidates have at one time held ministerial office in 
Formosa. Some have attached their photographs. Others have (perhaps wisely) 
refrained from doing so. The chairman turns to the leading Chinese expert 
and says, "Perhaps Dr. Wu can tell us which of these candidates should be 
put on the short list. " Dr. Wu smiles enigmatically and points to the heap. 
"None of them any good," he says briefly. "But how— I mean, why not?" asks 
the chairman, surprised. "Because no good scholar would ever apply. He would 
fear to lose face if he were not chosen." "So what do we do now?" asks the 
chairman. "I think," says Dr. Wu, "we might persuade Dr. Lim to take this 
post. What do you think. Dr. Lee?" "Yes, I think he might," says Lee, "but 
we couldn't approach him ourselves of course. We could ask Dr. Tan whether 
he thinks Dr. Lim would be interested." "I don't know Dr. Tan," says Wu, 
"but I know his friend Dr. Wong. " By then the chairman is too muddled to 
know who is to be approached by whom. But the great thing is that all the 
applications are thrown into the waste-paper basket, only one candidate 
being considered, and he a man who did not apply. 

We do not advise the universal adoption of the modern Chinese method 
but we draw from it the useful conclusion that the failure of other methods 
is mainly due to there being too many candidates. There are, admittedly, 
some initial steps by which the total may be reduced. The 52 formula "Reject 
everyone over 50 or under 20 plus everyone called Murphy" is now un iversally 
used, and its application will somewhat reduce the list. The names remaining 


will still, however, be too numerous. To choose between three hundred 
people, all well qualified and highly recommended, is not really possible. 
We are driven therefore to conclude that the mistake lies in the original 
advertisement. It has attracted too many applications. The disadvantage of 
this is so little realized that people devise advertisements in terms which 
will inevitably attract thousands. A post of responsibility is announced as 
vacant, the previous occupant being now in the Senate or the House of Lords. 
The salary is large, the pension generous, the duties nominal, the 
privileges immense, the perquisites valuable, free residence provided with 
official car and unlimited facilities for travel. Candidates should apply, 
promptly but carefully, enclosing copies (not originals) of not more than 
three recent testimonials. What is the result? A deluge of applications, 
many from lunatics and as many again from retired army majors with a gift 
(as they always claim) for handling men. There is nothing to do except burn 
the lot and start thinking all over again. It would have saved time and 
trouble to do some thinking in the first place. 

Only a little thought is needed to convince us that the perfect 
advertisement would attract only one reply and that from the right man. Let 
us begin with an extreme example. 

Wanted— Acrobat capable of crossing a slack wire 200 feet above raging 
furnace. Twice nightly, three times on Saturday. 53 Salary offered 
&sterling;25 (or $70 U.S.) per week. No pension and no compensation in the 
event of injury. Apply in person at Wildcat Circus between the hours of 9 
A.M. and 10 A.M. 

The wording of this may not be perfect but the a/m should be so to 
balance the inducement in salary against the possible risks involved that 
only a single applicant will appear. It is needless to ask for details of 
qualifications and experience. No one unskilled on the slack wire would find 
the offer atfractive. It is needless to insist that candidates should be 
physically fit, sober, and free from fits of dizziness. They know that. It 
is just as needless to stipulate that those nervous of heights need not 
apply. They won't. The skill of the advertiser consists in adjusting the 
salary to the danger. An offer of &ster ling; 1000 (or $3000 U.S.) per week 
might produce a dozen applicants. An offer of &sterling; 15 (or $35 U.S.) 
might produce none. Somewhere between those two figures lies the exact sum 
to specify, the minimum figure to atfract anyone actually capable of doing 
the job. If there is more than one applicant, the figure has been placed a 
trifle too high. 

Let us now take, for comparison, a less extreme example. 

Wanted— An archaeologist with high academic qualifications willing to spend 
fifteen years in excavating the Inca tombs at Helsdump on the Alligator 
River. Knighthood or equivalent honor guaranteed. Pension payable but never 
yet claimed. Salary of &sterling;2000 (or $6000 U.S.) per year. Apply in 
triplicate to the Director of the Grubbenburrow Institute, Sickdale, 111., 

Here the advantages and drawbacks are neatly balanced. There is no need 
to insist that candidates must be patient, 54 tough, intrepid, and single. 
The terms of the advertisement have eliminated all who are not. It is 


unnecessary to require that candidates must be mad on excavating tombs. Mad 
is just what they will certainly be. Having thus reduced the possible 
applicants to a maximum of about three, the terms of the advertisement place 
the salary just too low to attract two of them and the promised honor just 
high enough to interest the third. We may suppose that, in this case, the 
offer of a K.C.M.G. would have produced two applications, the offer of an 
O.B.E., none. The result is a single candidate. He is off his head but that 
does not matter. He is the man we want. 

It may be thought that the world offers comparatively few opportunities 
to appoint slack-wire acrobats and tomb excavators, and that the problem is 
more often to find candidates for less exotic appointments. This is true, 
but the same principles can be applied. Their application demands, however— 
as is evident- a greater degree of skill. Let us suppose that the post to 
be filled is that of Prime Minister. The modern tendency is to trust in 
various methods of election, with results that are almost invariably 
disastrous. Were we to turn, instead, to the fairy stories we learned in 
childhoo4 we should realize that at the period to which these stories 
relate far more satisfactory methods were in use. When the king had to 
choose a man to marry his eldest or only daughter and so inherit the 
kingdom, he normally planned some obstacle course from which only the right 
candidate would emerge with credit; and from which indeed (in many 
instances) only the right candidate would emerge at all. For imposing such a 
test the kings of that rather vaguely defined period were well provided with 
55 both personnel and equipment. Their establishment included magicians, 
demons, fairies, vampires, werewolves, giants, and dwarfs. Their territories 
were supplied with magic mountains, rivers of fire, hidden freasures, and 
enchanted forests. It might be urged that modern governments are in this 
respect less fortunate. This, however, is by no means certain. An 
adminisfrator able to command the services of psychologists, psychiafrists, 
alienists, statisticians, and efficiency experts is not perhaps in a worse 
(or better) position than one relying upon hideous crones and fairy 
godmothers. An adminisfration equipped with movie cameras, television 
apparatus, radio networks, and X-ray machines would not appear to be in a 
worse (or better) position than one employing magic wands, crystal balls, 
wishing wells, and cloaks of invisibility. Their means of assessment would 
seem, at any rate, to be sfrictly comparable. All that is required is to 
translate the technique of the fairy story into a form applicable to the 
modern world. In this, as we shall see, there is no essential difficulty. 
The first step in the process is to decide on the qualities a Prime Minister 
ought to have. These need not be the same in all circumstances, but they 
need to be listed and agreed upon. Let us suppose that the qualities deemed 
essential are (i) Energy, (2) Courage, (3) Patriotism, (4) Experience, (5) 
Popularity, and (6) Eloquence. Now, it will be observed that all these are 
general-qualities which all possible applicants would believe themselves to 
possess. The field could readily, of course, be narrowed by stipulating (4) 
Experience of lion-taming, or (6) Eloquence in Mandarin. But that is not the 
way in which we want to narrow the field. We do not want to stipulate a 
quality in a 56 special form; rather, each quality in an exceptional degree. 
In other words, the successful candidate must be the most energetic, 
courageous, patriotic, experienced, popular, and eloquent man in the 
counfry. Only one man can answer to that description and his is the only 
application we want. The terms of the appointment must thus be phrased so as 
to exclude everyone else. We should therefore word the advertisement in some 
such way as follows: 


Wanted— Prime Minister of Ruritania. Hours of work: 4 A.M. to 1 1.59 P.M. 
Candidates must be prepared to fight three rounds with the current 
heavyweight champion (regulation gloves to be worn). Candidates will die for 
their country, by painless means, on reaching the age of retirement (65). 
They will have to pass an examination in parliamentary procedure and will be 
liquidated should they fail to obtain 95% marks. They will also be 
liquidated if they fail to gain 75% votes in a popularity poll held under 
the Gallup Rules. They will finally be invited to try their eloquence on a 
Baptist Congress, the object being to induce those present to rock and roll. 
Those who fail will be liquidated. All candidates should present themselves 
at the Sporting Club (side entrance) at 11.15 A.M. onthe morning of 
September 19. Gloves will be provided, but they should bring their own 
rubber-soled shoes, singlet, and shorts. 

Observe that this advertisement saves all trouble about application 
forms, testimonials, photographs, references, and short lists. If the 
advertisement has been correctly worded, there will be only one apphcant, 
and he can take office immediately— well, almost immediately. But what if 
there is no applicant? That is proof that the advertisement 57 needs 
rewording. We have evidently asked for something more than exists. So the 
same advertisement (which is, after all, quite economical in space) can be 
inserted again with some slight adjustment. The pass mark in the examination 
can be reduced to 85 per cent with 65 per cent of the votes required in the 
popularity poll, and only two rounds against the heavyweight. Conditions can 
be successively relaxed, indeed, until an applicant appears. 

Suppose, however, that two or even three candidates present themselves. 
We shall know that we have been insufficiently scientific. It may be that 
the pass mark in the examination has been too abruptly lowered— it should 
have been 87 per cent, perhaps, with 66 per cent in the popularity poll. 
Whatever the cause, the damage has been done. Two, or possibly three, 
candidates are in the waiting room. We have a choice to make and cannot 
waste all the morning on it. One policy would be to start the ordeal and 
eliminate the candidates who emerge with least credit. There is, 
nevertheless, a quicker way. Let us assume that all three candidates have 
all the qualities already defined as essential. The only thing we need do is 
add one further quality and apply the simplest test of all. To do this, we 
ask the nearest young lady (receptionist or stenographer, as the case may 
be), "Which would you prefer?" She will promptly point out one of the 
candidates and so finish the matter. It has been objected that this 
procedure is the same thing as tossing a coin or otherwise letting chance 
decide. There is, in fact, no element of chance. It is merely the 
last-minute insistence on one other quality, one not so far taken into 
account: the quality of sex appeal. 58 



EVERY STUDENT of human institutions is familiar with the standard test 
by which the importance of the individual may be assessed. The number of 
doors to be passed, the number of his personal assistants, the number of his 
telephone receivers— these three figures, taken with the depth of his 
carpet in centimeters, have given us a simple formula that is reliable for 
most parts of the world. It is less widely known that the same sort of 
measurement is applicable, but in reverse, to the institution itself 

Take, for example, a publishing organization. Publishers have a strong 
tendency, as we know, to live in a state of chaotic squalor. The visitor who 
applies at the obvious entrance is led outside and around the block, down an 
alley and up three flights of stairs. A research establishment is similarly 
housed, as a rule, on the ground floor of what was once a private house, a 
crazy wooden corridor leading thence to a corrugated iron hut in what was 
once the garden. Are we not all familiar, moreover, with the layout of an 
international airport? As we emerge from the aircraft, we see (over to our 
right or left) a lofty structure wrapped in scaffolding. Then the air 
hostess leads us into 59 a hut with an asbestos roof Nor do we suppose for 
a moment that it will ever be otherwise. By the time the permanent building 
is complete the airfield will have been moved to another site. 

The institutions already mentioned— lively and productive as they may 
be— flourish in such shabby and makeshift surroundings that we might turn 
with relief to an institution clothed from the outset with convenience and 
dignity. The outer door, in bronze and glass, is placed centrally in a 
symmetrical facade. Polished shoes glide quietly over shining rubber to the 
glittering and silent elevator. The overpoweringly cultured receptionist 
will murmer with carmine lips into an ice-blue receiver. She will wave you 
into a chromium armchair, consoling you with a dazzling smile for any slight 
but inevitable delay. Looking up from a glossy magazine, you will observe 
how the wide corridors radiate toward departments A, B, and C. From behind 
closed doors will come the subdued noise of an ordered activity. A minute 
later and you are ankle deep in the director's carpet, plodding sturdily 
toward his distant, tidy desk. Hypnotized by the chiefs unwavering stare, 
cowed by the Matisse hung upon his waU, you will feel that you have found 
real efficiency at last. 

In point of fact you will have discovered nothing of the kind. It is 
now known that a perfection of planned layout is achieved only by 
institutions on the point of collapse. This apparently paradoxical 
conclusion is based upon a wealth of archaeological and historical research, 
with the more esoteric details of which we need not concern ourselves. In 
general principle, however, the method pursued has been to select and date 
the buildings which appear 60 to have been perfectly designed for their 
purpose. A study and comparison of these has tended to prove that perfection 
of planning is a symptom of decay. During a period of exciting discovery or 
progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for 
that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we 
know, is finality; and finality is death. 

Thus, to the casual tourist, awesfruck in front of St. Peter's, Rome, 
the Basilica and the Vatican must seem the ideal setting for the Papal 
Monarchy at the very height of its prestige and power. Here, he reflects, 
must Innocent III have thundered his anathema. Here must Gregory VII have 
laid down the law. But a glance at the guidebook will convince the fraveler 
that the really powerful Popes reigned long before the present dome was 
raised, and reigned not infrequently somewhere else. More than that, the 
later Popes lost half their authority while the work was still in progress. 


Julius n, whose decision it was to build, and Leo X, who approved Raphael's 
design, were dead long before the buildings assumed their present shape. 
Bramante's palace was still building until 1565, the great church not 
consecrated until 1626, nor the piazza colonnades finished until 1667. The 
great days of the Papacy were over before the perfect setting was even 
planned. They were almost forgotten by the date of its completion. 

That this sequence of events is in no way exceptional can be proved 
with ease. Just such a sequence can be found in the history of the League of 
Nations. Great hopes centered on the League from its inception in 1920 until 
about 1930. By 1933, at the latest, the experiment was seen to have failed. 
Its physical embodiment, however, the Palace 61 62 of the Nations, was not 
opened until 1937. It was a structure no doubt justly admired. Deep thought 
had gone into the design of secretariat and council chambers, committee 
rooms and cafeteria. Everything was there which ingenuity could devise- 
except, indeed, the League itself By the year when its Palace was formally 
opened the League had practically ceased to exist. 

It might be urged that the Palace of Versailles is an instance of 
something quite opposite; the architectural embodiment of Louis XIV's 
monarchy at its height. But here again the facts refuse to fit the theory. 
For granted that Versailles may typify the triumphant spirit of the age, it 
was mostly completed very late in the reign, and some of it indeed during 
the reign that followed. The building of Versailles mainly took place 
between 1669 and 1685. The king did not move there until 1682, and even then 
the work was still in progress. The famous royal bedroom was not occupied 
until 1701, nor the chapel finished until nine years later. Considered as a 
seat of government, as apart Irom a royal residence, Versailles dates in 
part from as late as 1756. As against that, Louis XIV's real triumphs were 
mostly before 1679, the apex of his career reached in 1682 itself and his 
power declining from about 1685. According to one historian, Louis, in 
coming to Versailles "was already sealing the doom of his line and race." 
Another says of Versailles that "The whole thing... was completed just when 
the decline of Louis's power had begun." A third tacitly supports this 
theory by describing the period 1685-1713 as "The Years of Decline." In 
other words, the visitor who thinks Versailles the place from which Turenne 
rode forth to victory is essentially mistaken. It 63 would be historically 
more correct to picture the embarrassment, in that setting, of those who 
came with the news of defeat at Blenheim. In a palace resplendent with 
emblems of victory they can hardly have known which way to look. 

Mention of Blenheim must naturally call to mind the palace of that name 
built for the victorious Duke of Marlborough. Here again we have a building 
ideally planned, this time as the place of retirement for a national hero. 
Its heroic proportions are more dramatic perhaps than convenient, but the 
general effect is just what the architects intended. No scene could more 
fittingly enshrine a legend. No setting could have been more appropriate for 
the meeting of old comrades on the anniversary of a battle. Our pleasure, 
however, in picturing the scene is spoiled by our realization that it cannot 
have taken place. The Duke never lived there and never even saw it finished. 
His actual residence was at Holjwell, near St. Alban's, and (when in town) 
at Marlborough House. He died at Windsor Lodge and his old comrades, when 
they held a reunion, are known to have dined in a tent. Blenheim took long 
in building, not because of the elaboration of the design— which was 


admittedly quite elaborate enough— but because the Duke was in disgrace and 
even, for two years, in exile during the period which might otherwise have 
witnessed its completion. 

What of the monarchy which the Duke of Marlborough served? Just as 
tourists now wander, guidebook in hand, through the Orangerie or the Galerie 
des Glaces, so the future archaeologist may peer around what once was 
London. And he may well incline to see in the ruins of Buckingham Palace a 
true expression of British monarchy. He 64 will trace the great avenue from 
Admiralty Arch to the palace gate. He will reconstruct the forecourt and the 
central balcony, thinking all the time how suitable it must have been for a 
powerful ruler whose sway extended to the remote parts of the world. Even a 
present-day American might be tempted to shake his head over the arrogance 
of a George III, enthroned in such impressive state as this. But again we 
find that the really powerful monarchs all lived somewhere else, in 
buildings long since vanished— at Greenwich or Nonesuch, Kenilworth or 
Whitehall. The builder of Buckingham Palace was George IV, whose court 
architect, John Nash, was responsible for what was described at the time as 
its "general feebleness and triviality of taste." But George IV himself, who 
lived at Carlton House or Brighton, never saw the finished work; nor did 
William IV, who ordered its completion. It was Queen Victoria who first took 
up residence there in 1837, being married from the new palace in 1840. But 
her first enthusiasm for Buckingham Palace was relatively short-lived. Her 
husband infinitely preferred Windsor and her own later preference was for 
Balmoral or Osborne. The splendors of Buckingham Palace are therefore to be 
associated, if we are to be accurate, with a later and strictly 
constitutional monarchy. It dates from a period when power was vested in 

It is natural, therefore, to ask at this point whether the Palace of 
Westminster, where the House of Commons meets, is itself a true expression 
of parliamentary rule. It represents beyond question a magnificent piece of 
planning, aptly designed for debate and yet provided with ample space for 
everything else— for committee meetings, for 65 quiet study, for 
refreshment, and (on its terrace) for tea. It has everything a legislator 
could possibly desire, all incorporated in a building of immense dignity and 
comfort. It should date— but this we now hardly dare assume— from a period 
when parUamentary rule was at its height. But once again the dates refuse 
to fit into this pattern. The original House, where Pitt and Fox were 
matched in oratory, was accidentally desfroyed by fire in 1834. It would 
appear to have been as famed for its inconvenience as for its lofty standard 
of debate. The present structure was begun in 1840, partly occupied in 1852, 
but incomplete when its architect died in 1 860. It finally assumed its 
present appearance in about 1868. Now, by what we can no longer regard as 
coincidence, the decline of Parliament can be fraced, without much dispute, 
to the Reform Act of 1 867. It was in the following year that all initiative 
in legislation passed from Parliament to be vested in the Cabinet. The 
prestige attached to the letters "M.P." began sharply to decline and 
thenceforward the most that could be said is that "a role, though a humble 
one, was left for private members. " The great days were over. 

The same could not be said of the various Ministries, which were to 
gain importance in proportion to Parliament's decline. Investigation may yet 
serve to reveal that the India Office reached its peak of efficiency when 
accommodated in the Westminster Palace Hotel. What is more significant, 
however, is the recent development of the Colonial Office. For while the 
British Empire was mostly acquired at a period when the Colonial Office (in 


so far as there was one) occupied haphazard premises in Downing Street, a 
new phase of colonial policy began when the department moved 66 into 
buildings actually designed for the purpose. This was in 1875 and the 
structure was well designed as a background for the disasters of the Boer 
War. But the Colonial Office gained a new lease of life during World War II. 
With its move to temporary and highly inconvenient premises in Great Smith 
Street— premises leased from the Chiirch of England and intended for an 
entirely different purpose— British colonial policy entered that phase of 
enlightened activity which will end no doubt with the completion of the new 
building planned on the site of the old Westminster Hospital. It is 
reassuring to know that work on this site has not even begun. 

But no other British example can now match in significance the story of 
New Delhi. Nowhere else have British architects been given the task of 
planning so great a capital city as the seat of government for so vast a 
population. The intention to found New Delhi was announced at the Imperial 
Durbar of 1911, King George V being at that time the Mogul's successor on 
what had been the Peacock Throne. Sir Edwin Lutyens then proceeded to draw 
up plans for a British Versailles, splendid in conception, comprehensive in 
detail, masterly in design, and overpowering in scale. But the stages of its 
progress toward completion correspond with so many steps in political 
collapse. The Government of India Act of 1909 had been the prelude to all 
that followed— the attempt on the Viceroy's life in 1912, the Declaration 
of 1917, the Montagu-Chelmsford Report of 1918 audits implementation in 
1920. Lord Irwin actually moved into his new palace in 1929, the year in 
which the Indian Congress demanded independence, the year in which the Round 
Table Conference opened, the 67 year before the Civil Disobedience campaign 
began. It would be possible, though tedious, to trace the whole story down 
to the day when the British finally withdrew, showing how each phase of the 
refreatwas exactly paralleled with the completion of another triumph in 
civic design. What was finally achieved was no more and no less than a 

The decline of British imperialism actually began with the general 
election of 1906 and the victory on that occasion of liberal and 
semi-socialist ideas. It need surprise no one, therefore, to observe that 
1906 is the date of completion carved in imperishable granite over the 
British War Office doors. The campaign of Waterloo might have been directed 
from poky offices around the Horse Guards Parade. It was, by contrast, in 
surroundings of dignity that were approved the plans for attacking the 

The elaborate layout of the Pentagon at Arlington, Virginia, provides 
another significant lesson for planners. It was not completed until the 
later stages of World War II and, of course, the architecture of the great 
victory was not constructed here, but in the crowded and untidy Munitions 
Building on Constitution Avenue. 

Even today, as the least observant visitor to Washington can see, the 
most monumental edifices are found to house such derelict organizations as 
the Departments of Commerce and Labor, while the more active agencies occupy 
half-completed quarters. Indeed, much of the more urgent business of 
government goes forward in "temporary" structures erected during World War 
I, and shrewdly preserved for their stimulating effect on adminisfration. 
Hard by the Capitol, the visitor will also observe the imposing 
marble-and-glass 68 headquarters of the Teamsters' Union, completed not a 
moment too soon before the heavy hand of Congressional investigation 
descended on its occupants. 


It is by no means certain that an influential reader of this chapter 
could prolong the life of a dying institution merely by depriving it of its 
streamlined headquarters. What he can do, however, with more confidence, is 
to prevent any organization strangling itself at birth. Examples abound of 
new institutions coming into existence with a full establishment of deputy 
directors, consultants and executives; all these coming together in a 
building specially designed for their purpose. And experience proves that 
such an institution will die. It is choked by its own perfection. It cannot 
take root for lack of soil. It cannot grow naturally for it is already 
grown. Fruitless by its very nature, it cannot even flower. When we see an 
example of such planning— when we are confronted for example by the 
building designed for the United Nations— the experts among us shake their 
heads sadly, draw a sheet over the corpse, and tiptoe quietly into the open 
air. 69 


ESSENTIAL TO the technique of modern life is the Cocktail Party. Upon 
this institution hinges the international, the learned, and the indusfrial 
congress. Without at least one cocktail party these gatherings are known to 
be impossible. So far there has been too little scientific study of their 
function and possible use. The time has come to give this subject some 
careful thought. In planning a cocktail party what, exactly, do we hope to 

This question can be answered in various ways, and it soon becomes 
evident that the same party can serve a variety of purposes. Let us take one 
possible object at random and see how it could be attained more completely 
and quickly by the application of scientific method. Take, for example, the 
problem of discovering the relative importance of the people there. We may 
assume that their official status and seniority is already known. But what 
of their actual importance in relation to the work being done? It often 
happens that the key men and women are not those of highest official 
standing. That these others are influential will be apparent by the end of 
the conference. How much more useful if we could have assessed their 
importance 70 at the beginning! It is in this assessment that a cocktail 
party, held on the second day of the congress, may give invaluable aid. 

For the purposes of the investigation it will be assumed that the space 
in which the party is to be held is all on one level and that there is only 
one formal entrance. It will be assumed, further, that the whole affair is 
to last two hours according to the invitation cards but two hours and twenty 
minutes in actual fact. It will be assumed, finally, that the drinks 
circulate freely throughout the area with which we have to deal; for a bar 
in visible operation would alter the nature of the problem. Given these 
assumptions, how are we to assess the real as opposed to the theoretical 
importance of the guests present? 

The first known fact upon which we can base our theory is the direction 
of the human current. We know that the guests on arrival will drift 
automatically toward the left side of the reception floor. This leftward set 


of the tide has an interesting and partly biological explanation. The heart 
is (or to be exact, appears to be) on the left side of the body. In the more 
primitive form of warfare some form of shield is therefore used to protect 
the left side, leaving the offensive weapon to be held in the right hand. 
The normal offensive weapon was the sword, worn in a scabbard or sheath. If 
the sword was to be wielded in the right hand, the scabbard would have to be 
worn on the left side. With a scabbard worn on the left, it became 
physically impossible to mount a horse on the off side unless intending to 
face the tail— which was not the normal practice. But if you mount on the 
near side, you will want to have your horse on the left of the road, so that 
you are clear of the 71 traffic while mounting. It therefore becomes natural 
and proper to keep to the left, the contrary practice (as adopted in some 
backward countries) being totally opposed to all the deepest historical 
instincts. Free of arbitrary traffic rules the normal human being swings to 
the left. 

The second known fact is that people prefer the side of the room to the 
middle. This is obvious from the way a restaurant fills up. The tables along 
the left wall are occupied first, then those at the far end, then those 
along the right wall, and finally (and with reluctance) those in the middle. 
Such is the human revulsion to the central space that managements often 
despair of filling it and so create what is termed a dance floor. It will be 
realized that this behavior pattern could be upset by some extraneous 
factor, like a view of the waterfall from the end windows. If we exclude 
cathedrals and glaciers, the restaurant will fill up on the lines indicated, 
from left to right. Reluctance to occupy the central space derives from 
prehistoric instincts. The caveman who entered someone else's cave was 
doubtful of his reception and wanted to be able to have his back to the wall 
and yet with some room to maneuver. In the center of the cave he felt too 
vulnerable. He therefore sidled round the walls of the cave, grunting and 
fingering his club. Modern man is seen to do much the same thing, muttering 
to himself and fingering his club tie. The basic trend of movement at a 
cocktail party is the same as in a restaiirant. The tendency is toward the 
sides of the space, but not actually reaching the wall. 

If we combine these two known facts, the leftward drift and the 
tendency to avoid the center, we have the biological explanation of the 
phenomenon we have all observed 72 in practice: that is the clockwise flow 
of the human movement. There may be local eddies and swirls— women will 
swerve to avoid people they detest, or rush crying "Darling!" toward people 
they detest even more-- but the general set of the tide runs inexorably 
round the room. People who matter, people who are literally "in the swim," 
keep to the channel where the tide runs strongly. They move with the general 
movement and at very much the average speed. Those who appear to be glued to 
the walls, usually deep in conversation with people they meet every week, 
are nobodies. Those who jam themselves in the corners of the room are the 
timid and feeble. Those who drift into the center are the eccenfric and 
merely silly. 

What we have next to study is the time at which people arrive. Now we 
can safely assume that the people who matter will arrive at the time they 
consider favorable. They will not be among those who have overestimated the 
length of their journey and so arrive ten minutes before the party is due to 
begin. They will not be among those whose watches have stopped and who rush 
in, panting, when the party is nearly over. No, the people we want to 
identify will choose their moment. What moment will it be? It will clearly 
be a time fixed by two major considerations. They will not want to make an 


entrance before there are sufficient people there to observe their arrival. 
But neither will they want to arrive after other important people have gone 
on (as they always do) to another party. Their arrival will therefore be at 
least half an hour after the party begins and at least an hour before it is 
due to end. That gives us a bracket, suggesting the formula that the optimum 
arrival time will be exactly three-quarters of an hour after the time given 
on 73 the invitation card: 7.15, for example, if the party is supposed to 
start at 6.30. The temptation at this point is to conclude that the 
discovery of the optimum arrival time is the solution to the whole problem. 
Some students might say, "Never mind what happens afterwards. Observe the 
door with a stop watch and you have the answer." The more experienced 
investigator will treat that suggestion with gentle derision. For who is to 
know that the person arriving at 7. 15 precisely was aiming to do just that? 
Some may arrive at that time because they meant to be there at 6.30 but 
could not find the place. Others may arrive at that hour thinking that the 
time is later than it is. A few might turn up then without even being 
invited— guests expected somewhere else and on another day. So, although 
safely concluding that the people who matter should arrive between 7. 10 and 
7.20, we would be entirely wrong to regard as important all who appear at 
about that time. 

It is at this stage in the research project that we need to test and 
complete our theory by experimental means. Fully to understand the social 
current, we should resort to the technique used in a hydraulic laboratory. 
In such an establishment the scientist who wants to ascertain how water will 
flow round a bridge pier of a certain shape will add cochineal to the water 
which he sets flowing over a sheet of glass. On the glass he places his 
model pier. Then from above he photographs the pattern made by the color 
streaks in the water. What we should like to do would be to mark the people 
of known importance at a cocktail party— stain them, as it were, with 
cochineal— and photograph their progress from a gallery. It may be supposed 
that there are difficulties about pursuing an investigation on these lines. 
74 Luckily, however, information came to hand about a certain British Colony 
where the "staining" of some specimens had already been done. 

What had happened was that a former Governor, perhaps a century ago, 
tried to persuade the respectable male population to wear black evening 
dress instead of white. His persuasion and example failed completely so far 
as the merchants, bankers and lawyers were concerned but he was necessarily 
obeyed by the civil servants, who had no option in the matter. The result 
was that a tradition grew up and has been observed to this day. High 
government officers wear black and everyone else wears white. Now, as the 
officials are still important in this particular society, it was easy for 
investigators to follow their movement irom a gallery. It was possible, 
moreover, to photograph their movement pattern on different occasions, 
confirming the theories so far described and leading us to the final 
discovery which we are now in a position to disclose. Careful observations 
prove4 beyond a shadow of doubt, that the black coats arrived at some time 
between 7. 10 and 7.20; that they circled left and so proceeded around the 
floor; that they avoided the corners and the walls; and that they shunned 
the middle. So far their behavior closely conformed to our theory. But we 
now noted a further and unexpected phenomenon. Having reached a point near 
the far right corner of the room— which they did in half an hour— they 
lingered in the same area for ten minutes or more. They then tended to leave 
rather abruptly. It was only after long and careful study of the films taken 
that we realized what this behavior meant. The pause, we finally concluded. 


was to allow the other important people to 75 catch up, those who had 
arrived at 7.10 waiting for those who had arrived at 7.20. The actual 
foregathering of the important people did not take long. They each merely 
wanted to be seen by the others, as proof that they were there. This done, 
the withdrawal began and was, in every instance, complete by 8. 15. 

What we learned by observation in this one society is now believed to 
be applicable to any other; and the formula is easy to apply. To find the 
people who really matter, divide the whole floor area (mentally) into 
squares. Letter these from left to right, as you enter, as A, B, C, D, E, 
and F. Number the squares trom the entrance to the far end as 1 to 8. The 
hour at which the party begins should be termed H. The moment when the last 
guest leaves will be approximately two hours and twenty minutes after the 
first people arrive. We shall call this H +140. To find the people who 
really matter is now perfectly simple. They are the people grouped in square 
E/7 between H + 75 and H + 90. The most important person of all will be in 
the very center of the group. 

Students will realize that the validity of this rule must depend upon 
its not being generally known. The contents of this chapter should therefore 
be treated as confidential and kept strictly under lock and key. Students of 
social science must keep this information to themselves and members of the 
general public are not on any account to read it. 76 



WE FIND everywhere a type of organization (administrative, commercial, 
or academic) in which the higher officials are plodding and dull, those less 
senior are active only in intrigue against each other, and the junior men 
are frustrated or frivolous. Little is being attempted. Nothing is being 
achieved. And in contemplating this sorry picture, we conclude that those in 
control have done their best, struggled against adversity, and have finally 
admitted defeat. It now appears from the results of recent investigation, 
that no such failure need be assumed. In a high percentage of the moribund 
institutions so far examined the final state of coma is something gained of 
set purpose and after prolonged effort. It is the result, admittedly, of a 
disease, but of a disease that is largely self-induced. From the first signs 
of the condition, the progress of the disease has been encouraged, the 
causes aggravated, and the symptoms welcomed. It is the disease of induced 
inferiority, called Injelititis. It is a commoner ailment than is often 
supposed, and the diagnosis is far easier than the cure. 

Our study of this organizational paralysis begins, logically, with a 
description of the course of the disease from the 78 first signs to the 
final coma. The second stage of our inquiry concerns symptoms and diagnosis. 
The third stage should properly include some reference to treatment, but 
little is known about this. Nor is much likely to be discovered in the 


immediate future, for the tradition of British medical research is entirely 
opposed to any emphasis on this part of the subject. British medical 
specialists are usually quite content to trace the symptoms and define the 
cause. It is the French, by contrast, who begin by describing the treatment 
and discuss the diagnosis later, if at all. We feel bound to adhere in this 
to the British method, which may not help the patient but which is 
unquestionably more scientific. To travel hopefully is better than to 

The first sign of danger is represented by the appearance in the 
organization's hierarchy of an individual who combines in himself a high 
concentration of incompetence and jealousy. Neither quality is significant 
in itself and most people have a certain proportion of each. But when these 
two qualities reach a certain concentration— represented at present by the 
formula ff— there is a chemical reaction. The two 

elements fiase, producing a new substance that we have termed "injelitance." 
The presence of this substance can be safely inferred from the actions of 
any individual who, having failed to make anything of his own department, 
tries constantly to interfere with other departments and gain control of the 
central administration. The specialist who observes this particular mixture 
of failure and ambition will at once shake his head and murmur, "Primary or 
idiopathic injelitance." The symptoms, as we shall see, are quite 
unmistakable. 79 

The next or secondary stage in the progress of the disease is reached 
when the infected individual gains complete or partial control of the 
central organization. In many instances this stage is reached without any 
period of primary infection, the individual having actually entered the 
organization at that level. The injelitant individual is easily recognizable 
at this stage from the persistence with which he struggles to eject all 
those abler than himself, as also from his resistance to the appointment or 
promotion of 80 anyone who might prove abler in course of time. He dare not 
say, "Mr. Asterisk is too able," so he says, "Asterisk? Clever perhaps— but 
is he sound? I incline to prefer Mr. Cypher." He dare not say, "Mr. Asterisk 
makes me feel small," so he says, "Mr. Cypher appears to me to have the 
better judgment. " Judgment is an interesting word that signifies in this 
context the opposite of intelligence; it means, in fact, doing what was done 
last time. So Mr. Cypher is promoted and Mr. Asterisk goes elsewhere. The 
central adminisfration gradually fills up with people stupider than the 
chairman, director, or manager. If the head of the organization is 
second-rate, he will see to it that his immediate staff are all third-rate; 
and they will, in turn, see to it that their subordinates are fourth-rate. 
There will soon be an actual competition in stupidity, people pretending to 
be even more brainless than they are. 

The next or tertiary stage in the onset of this disease is reached when 
there is no spark of intelligence left in the whole organization from top to 
bottom. This is the state of coma we described in our first paragraph. When 
that stage has been reached the institution is, for all practical purposes, 
dead. It may remain in a coma for twenty years. It may quietly disintegrate. 
It may even, finally, recover. Cases of recovery are rare. It may be thought 
odd that recovery without treatment should be possible. The process is quite 
natural, nevertheless, and closely resembles the process by which various 
living organisms develop a resistance to poisons that are at first encounter 


fatal. It is as if the whole institution had been sprayed with a DDT 
solution guaranteed to eliminate all ability found in its way. For a period 
of years this practice achieves the desired result. 81 Eventually, however, 
individuals develop an immunity. They conceal their ability under a mask of 
imbecile good humor. The result is that the operatives assigned to the task 
of ability-elimination fail (through stupidity) to recognize ability when 
they see it. An individual of merit penetrates the outer defenses and begins 
to make his way toward the top. He wanders on, babbling about golf and 
giggling feebly, losing documents and forgetting names, and looking just 
like everyone else. Only when he has reached high rank does he suddenly 
throw off the mask and appear like the demon king among a crowd of pantomime 
fairies. With shrill screams of dismay the high executives find ability 
right there in the midst ofthem. Itis too late by then to do anything 
about it. The damage has been done, the disease is in retreat, and fuU 
recovery is possible over the next ten years. But these instances of natural 
cure are extremely rare. In the more usual course of events, the disease 
passes through the recognized stages and becomes, as it would seem, 

We have seen what the disease is. It now remains to show by what 
symptoms its presence can be detected. It is one thing to detail the spread 
of the infection in an imaginary case, classified from the start. It is 
quite a different thing to enter a factory, barracks, office, or college and 
recognize the symptoms at a glance. We all know how an estate agent will 
wander round a vacant house when acting for the purchaser. It is only a 
question of time before he throws open a cupboard or kicks a baseboard and 
exclaims, "Dry rot!" (acting for the vendor, he would lose the key of the 
cupboard while drawing attention to the view from the window). In the same 
way a political scientist can 82 recognize the symptoms of Injelititis even 
in its primary stage. He will pause, sniff, and nod wisely, and it should be 
obvious at once that he knows. But how does he know? How can he tell that 
injelitance has set in? If the original source of the infection were 
present, the diagnosis would be easier, but it is still quite possible when 
the germ of the disease is on holiday. His influence can be detected in the 
atmosphere. It can be detected, above all, in certain remarks that will be 
made by others, as thus: "It would be a mistake for us to attempt too much. 
We cannot compete with Toprank. Here in Lowgrade we do useful work, meeting 
the needs of the country. Let us be content with that." Or again, "We do not 
pretend to be in the first flight. It is absurd the way these people at 
Much-Striving talk of their work, just as if they were in the Toprank 
class." Or finally, "Some of our younger men have transferred to Toprank— 
one or two even to Much- Striving. It is probably their wisest plan. We are 
quite happy to let them succeed in that way. An exchange of ideas and 
personnel is a good thing— although, to be sure, the few men we have had 
from Toprank have been rather disappointing. We can only expect the people 
they have thrown out. Ah well, we must not grumble. We always avoid friction 
when we can. And, in our humble way we can claim to be doing a good job." 

What do these remarks suggest? They suggest— or, rather, they clearly 
indicate— that the standard of achievement has been set too low. Only a low 
standard is desired and one still lower is acceptable. The directives 
issuing from a second-rate chief and addressed to his third-rate executives 
speak only of minimum aims and ineffectual means. A higher standard of 
competence is not desired, for an 83 efficient organization would be beyond 
the chiefs power to control. The motto, "Ever third-rate" has been 
inscribed over the main entrance in letters of gold. Third-rateness has 


become a principle of policy. It will be observed, however, that the 
existence of higher standards is still recognized. There remains at this 
primary stage a hint of apology, a feeling of uneasiness when Toprank is 
mentioned. Neither this apology nor unease lasts for long. The second stage 
of the disease comes on quickly and it is this we must now describe. 

The secondary stage is recognized by its chief symptom, which is 
Smugness. The aims have been set low and have therefore been largely 
achieved. The target has been set up within ten yards of the firing point 
and the scoring has therefore been high. The directors have done what they 
set out to do. This soon fills them with self-satisfaction. They set out to 
do something and they have done it. They soon forget that it was a small 
effort to gain a small result. They observe only that they have succeeded— 
unlike those people at Much-Striving. They become increasingly smug and 
their smugness reveals itself in remarks such as this: "The chief is a sound 
man and very clever when you get to know him. He never says much— that is 
not his way— but he seldom makes a mistake." (These last words can be said 
with justice of someone who never does anything at all.) Or this: "We rather 
distrust brilliance here. These clever people can be a dreadful nuisance, 
upsetting established routine and proposing all sorts of schemes that we 
have never seen tried. We obtain splendid results by simple common sense and 
teamwork." And finally this: "Our canteen is something we are really rather 
proud of. We don't 84 know how the caterer can produce so good a lunch at 
the price. We are lucky to have him!" This last remark is made as we sit at 
a table covered with dirty oilcloth, facing an uneatable, nameless mess on a 
plate and shuddering at the sight and smell of what passes for coffee. In 
point of fact, the canteen reveals more than the office. Just as for a quick 
verdict we judge a private house by inspection of the WC (to find whether 
there is a spare toilet roll), just as we judge a hotel by the state of the 
cruet, so we judge a larger institution by the appearance of the canteen. If 
the decoration is in dark brown and pale green; if the curtains are purple 
(or absent); if there are no flowers in sight; if there is barley in the 
soup (with or without a dead fly); if the menu is one of hash and mold; and 
if the executives are still delighted with everj^hing— why, then the 
institution is in a pretty bad way. For self-satisfaction, in such a case, 
has reached the point at which those responsible cannot tell the difference 
between food and filth. This is smugness made absolute. 

The tertiary and last stage of the disease is one in which apathy has 
taken the place of smugness. The executives no longer boast of their 
efficiency as compared with some other institution. They have forgotten that 
any other institution exists. They have ceased to eat in the canteen, 
preferring now to bring sandwiches and scatter their desks with the crumbs. 
The bulletin boards carry notices about the concert that took place four 
years ago, Mr. Brown's office has a nameplate saying, "Mr. Smith." Mr. 
Smith's door is marked, "Mr. Robinson," in faded ink on an adhesive luggage 
label. The broken windows have been repaired with odd bits of cardboard. The 
electric light switches give a 85 slight but painful shock when touched. The 
whitewash is flaking off the ceiling and the paint is blotchy on the walls. 
The elevator is out of order and the cloakroom tap cannot be turned off 
Water fi-om the broken skylight drips wide of the bucket placed to catch it, 
and fi-om somewhere in the basement comes the wail of a hungry cat. The last 
stage of the disease has brought the whole organization to the point of 
collapse. The symptoms of the disease in this acute form are so numerous and 
evident that a trained investigator can often detect them over the telephone 
without visiting the place at all. When a weary voice answers "Ullo!" (that 


most unhelpful of replies), the expert has often heard enough. He shakes his 
head sadly as he replaces the receiver. "Well on in the tertiary phase," he 
will mutter to himself, "and almost certainly inoperable." It is too late to 
attempt any sort of treatment. The institution is practically dead. 

We have now described this disease as seen from within and then again 
from outside. We know now the origin, the progress, and the outcome of the 
infection, as also the symptoms by which its presence is detected. British 
medical skill seldom goes beyond that point in its research. Once a disease 
has been identified, named, described, and accounted for, the British are 
usually quite satisfied and ready to investigate the next problem that 
presents itself If asked about freatment they look surprised and suggest 
the use of penicillin preceded or followed by the extraction of all the 
patient's teeth. It becomes clear at once that this is not an aspect of the 
subject that interests them. Should our attitude be the same? Or should we 
as political scientists consider what, if anything, can be done about it? It 
86 would be premature, no doubt, to discuss any possible treatment in 
detail, but it might be useful to indicate very generally the hnes along 
which a solution might be attempted. Certain principles, at least, might be 
laid down. Of such principles, the first would have to be this: a diseased 
institution cannot reform itself There are instances, we know, of a disease 
vanishing without treatment, just as it appeared without warning; but these 
cases are rare and regarded by the specialist as irregular and undesirable. 
The cure, whatever its nature, must come from outside. For a patient to 
remove his own appendix under a local anaesthetic may be physically 
possible, but the practice is regarded with disfavor and is open to many 
objections. Other operations lend themselves still less to the patient's own 
dexterity. The first principle we can safely enunciate is that the patient 
and the surgeon should not be the same person. When an institution is in an 
advanced state of disease, the services of a specialist are required and 
even, in some instances, the services of the greatest living authority: 
Parkinson himself The fees payable may be very heavy indeed, but in a case 
of this sort, expense is clearly no object. It is a matter, after all, of 
life and death. 

The second principle we might lay down is this, that the primary stage 
of the disease can be treated by a simple injection, that the secondary 
stage can be cured in some instances by surgery, and that the tertiary stage 
must be regarded at present as incurable. There was a time when physicians 
used to babble about bottles and pills, but this is mainly out of date. 
There was another period when they talked more vaguely about psychology; but 
that too is out of date, most of the psychoanalysts having since been 
certified 87 as insane. The present age is one of injections and incisions 
and it behooves the political scientists to keep in step with the Faculty. 
Confronted by a case of primary infection, we prepare a syringe 
automatically and only hesitate as to what, besides water, it should 
contain. In principle, the injection should contain some active substance— 
but from which group should it be selected? A kill-or-cure injection would 
contain a high proportion of Intolerance, but this drug is difficult to 
procure and sometimes too powerful to use. Intolerance is obtainable from 
the bloodstream of regimental sergeant majors and is found to comprise two 
chemical elements, namely: (a) the best is scarcely good enough 
(GG"*) and (b) there is no excuse for anything 
(NE"*). Injected into a diseased institution, the intolerant 
individual has a tonic effect and may cause the organism to turn against the 
original source of infection. While this freatment may well do good, it is 


by no means certain that the cure will be permanent. It is doubtful, that is 
to say, whether the infected substance will be actually expelled from the 
system. Such information as we have rather leads us to suppose that this 
treatment is merely palliative in the first instance, the disease remaining 
latent though inactive. Some authorities believe that repeated injections 
would result in a complete cure, but others fear that repetition of the 
treatment would set up a fresh irritation, only slightly less dangerous than 
the original disease. Intolerance is a drug to be used, therefore, with 

There exists a rather milder drug called Ridicule, but its operation is 
uncertain, its character unstable, and its effects too little known. There 
is little reason to fear that any 88 damage could result from an injection 
of ridicule, but neither is it evident that a cure would result. It is 
generally agreed that the injelitant individual will have developed a thick 
protective skin, insensitive to ridicule. It may well be that ridicule may 
tend to isolate the infection, but that is as much as could be expected and 
more indeed than has been claimed. 

We may note, finally, that Castigation, which is easily obtainable, has 
been tried in cases of this sort and not wholly without effect. Here again, 
however, there are difficulties. This drug is an immediate stimulus but can 
produce a result the exact opposite of what the specialist intends. After a 
momentary spasm of activity, the injelitant individual will often prove more 
supine than before and just as harmful as a source of infection. If any use 
can be made of castigation it will almost certainly be as one element in a 
preparation composed otherwise of intolerance and ridicule, with perhaps 
other drugs as yet untried. It only remains to point out that this 
preparation does not as yet exist. 

The secondary stage of the disease we believe to be operable. 
Professional readers will all have heard of the Nuciform Sack and of the 
work generally associated with the name of Cutler Walpole. The operation 
first performed by that great surgeon involves, simply, the removal of the 
infected parts and the simultaneous introduction of new blood drawn from a 
similar organism. This operation has sometimes succeeded. It is only fair to 
add that it has also sometimes failed. The shock to the system can be too 
great. The new blood may be unobtainable and may fail, even when procured, 
to mingle with the blood previously in 89 circulation. On the other hand, 
this drastic method offers, beyond question, the best chance of a complete 

The tertiary stage presents us with no opportunity to do anything. The 
institution is for all practical purposes dead. It can be founded afresh but 
only with a change of name, a change of site, and an entirely different 
staff The temptation, for the economically minded, is to transfer some 
portion of the original staff to the new institution— in the name, for 
example, of continuity. Such a transfusion would certainly be fatal, and 
continuity is the very thing to avoid. No portion of the old and diseased 
foundation can be regarded as free from infection. No staff, no equipment, 
no fradition must be removed from the original site. Sfrict quarantine 
should be followed by complete disinfection. Infected personnel should be 
dispatched with a warm testimonial to such rival institutions as are 
regarded with particular hostility. All equipment and files should be 
desfroyed without hesitation. As for the buildings, the best plan is to 
insure them heavily and then set them alight. Only when the site is a 
blackened ruin can we feel certain that the germs of the disease are dead. 




READERS WHO are all too familiar with popular works on anthropology may 
be interested to learn that some recent investigations have involved a 
completely novel approach. The ordinary anthropologist is one who spends six 
weeks or six months (or even sometimes six years) among, say, the Borejoi 
tribe at their settlement on the Upper Teedyas River, Darndreeryland. He 
then returns to civilization with his photographs, tape recorders, and 
notebooks, eager to write his book about sex life and superstition. For 
tribes such as the Boreyu, life is made intolerable by all this peering and 
prying. They often become converts to Presbyterianism in the belief that 
they will thereupon cease to be of interest to anthropologists; nor in fact 
has this device been known to fail. But enough primitive people remain for 
the purposes of science. Books continue to multiply, and when the last tribe 
has resorted to the singing of hymns in self-defense, there are still the 
poor of the backstreets. These are perpetually pursued by questionnaire, 
camera, and phonograph; and the written results are familiar to us all. What 
is new about the approach now being attempted is not the technique of 
investigation but the choice of a society 91 in which to work. 
Anthropologists of this latest school ignore the primitive and have no time 
for the poor. They prefer to do their fieldwork among the rich. 

The team whose work we shall now describe, and to which the present 
author is attached, made certain preliminary studies among Greek Shipping 
Magnates and went on to deal in greater detail with the Arab Chieftains of 
the Pipeline. When this line of investigation had to be abandoned, for 
political and other reasons, the team went on to study the Chinese 
Millionaires of Singapore. It is there we encountered the Flunky Puzzle. It 
is there we first heard of the Chinese Hound Barrier. During the early 
stages of our inquiry we did not know the meaning of either term. We did not 
even know whether they were different names for the same thing. What we can 
claim now is that we at least followed up the first clue to present itself 

This clue we obtained in the course of a visit to the Singapore palace 
of Mr. HuGot Dow. Turning to the equerry who had shown him round the 
millionaire's collection of jade. Dr. Meddleton exclaimed, "Gee, and they 
say he began life as a coolie!" To this the inscrutable Chinese replied, 
"Only coolie can become millionaire. Only coolie can look like coolie. Only 
velly lich man can afford to look Uch." Upon these few and enigmatic words 
(of which no further explanation was offered) we based our whole scheme of 
research. The detailed results are comprised in the Meddleton-Snooperage 
Report (1956) but there is no reason why they should not be presented in a 
simplified form for the general reader. What follows is just such an 
outline, with technicalities mostly omitted. 

Up to a point, as we recognized, the problem of the 92 
coolie-millionaire offers no real difficulty. The Chinese coolie lives in a 


palm-thatched hovel on a bowl of rice. When he has risen to a higher 
occupation— hawking peanuts, for example, from a barrow— he still lives on 
rice and still lives in a hovel. When he has risen farther— to the selling, 
say, of possibly stolen bicycle parts, he keeps to his hovel and his rice. 
The result is that he has money to invest. Of ten coolies in this situation, 
nine will lose their money by unwise speculation. The tenth will be clever 
or lucky. He will live, nevertheless, in his hovel. He will eat, as before, 
his rice. As a success technique this is well worthy of study. 

In the American log cabin story the point is soon reached at which the 
future millionaire must wear a tie. He explains that he cannot otherwise 
inspire confidence. He must also acquire a better address, purely (he says) 
to gain prestige. In point of fact, the tie is to please his wife and the 
address to satisfy his daughter. The Chinese have their womenfolk under 
better control. So the prosperous coolie sticks to his hovel and his rice. 
This is a known fact and admits of two explanations. In the first place his 
home (whatever its other disadvantages) has undeniably brought him luck. In 
the second place, a better house would unquestionably attract the notice of 
the tax collector. So he wisely stays where he is. He will often keep the 
original hovel— at any rate as an office— for the rest of his life. He 
quits it so reluctantly that his decision to move marks a major crisis in 
his career. 

When he moves it is primarily to evade the exactions of secret 

societies, blackmailers, and gangs. To conceal his growing wealth from the 
tax collector is a relatively easy 93 matter; but to conceal it from his 
business associates is practically impossible. Once the word goes round that 
he is prospering, accurate guesses will be made as to the sum for which he 
can be "touched." All this is admittedly well known, but previous 
investigators have jumped too readily to the conclusion that there is only 
one sum involved. In point of fact there are three: the sum the victim would 
pay if kidnaped and held to ransom; the sum he would pay to keep a 
defamatory article out of a Chinese newspaper; the sum he would subscribe to 
charity rather than lose face. 

Our task was to ascertain the figure the first sum will have reached 
(on an average) at the moment when migration takes place from the original 
hovel to a well-fenced house guarded by an Alsatian hound. It is this move 
that has been termed "Breaking the Hound Barrier." Social scientists believe 
that it will tend to occur as soon as the ransom to be exacted comes to 
exceed the overhead costs of the "snatch." 

At about the time a prosperous Chinese changes house he has also to 
acquire a Chevrolet or Packard. Such a purchase often, however, antedates 
the change of address. So the spectacle of the expensive car outside the 
dingy office is too familiar to arouse much comment. No complete explanation 
has so far been offered. Conceding, as we may, the need for a car, we should 
rather expect it to share the squalor of its surroundings. For reasons not 
yet apparent, however, Chinese prosperity is first and fairly measured in 
terms of chromium, upholstery, make, and year. And the Packard will involve, 
very soon, a wire fence, barred windows, padlocked garage, and hound. A 
revolutionary change has occurred. If the Alsatian-owner does 94 not go so 
far as to pay his taxes, he must at least know how to explain why no taxable 
income has so far come his way. And supposing he can avoid paying $100,000 
to gangsters, he can hardly avoid payment of blackmail in some form. He must 
expect to receive obsequious journalists who claim credit for refusing to 
publish hostile articles about him in dubious journals. He must expect to 
see the same journalists a week later, this time collecting funds for some 


vaguely described orphanage. He must accustom himself to the visits of trade 
union officials offering for a consideration to discourage the industrial 
unrest that will otherwise affect his interests. He must resign himself, in 
fact, to the loss of a percentage. 

One of our objects was to compile some detailed information about the 
Alsatian-owning phase of a Chinese businessman's career. This was, in some 
ways, the most difficult part of the whole investigation. There are types of 
knowledge only to be gained at the price of torn trousers and bandaged 
ankles. We are proud to think, in retrospect, that where risks were 
inevitable they were taken unflinchingly. No fieldwork was needed, however, 
to discover what actual amounts are paid in ransom. These figures are in 
fact generally known and often quoted in the local press with some pretense 
at accuracy. What is significant about these figures is the range between 
the smallest and the largest figures quoted. Sums appear to vary from $5000 
to $200,000- never as little as $2000 nor as much as $500,000. Nor can 
there be any doubt that the majority of extortions fall within a narrower 
range than that. Further research will, no doubt, establish what the average 
amount can be taken to be. 95 96 

If we suppose that the minimum extortion represents a figure just high 
enough to yield a marginal profit, we shall as readily conclude that the 
maximum extortion represents all that can be extracted from the richest men 
that are ever kidnaped. It is manifest, however, that the very wealthiest 
men are never kidnaped at all. There would seem to be a point beyond which 
the Chinese gains immunity from blackmail. In this last phase, moreover, the 
millionaire 97 seeks to emphasize rather than conceal his wealth, 
demonstrating publicly that the point of immunity has been reached. So far, 
no social scientist of our team has been able to discover how this final 
immunity is achieved. Several have been thrown out of the Millionaires' Club 
when trying to collect evidence on this point. Concluding that it has 
something to do with the number of equerries, aides-de-camp, personal 
assistants, secretaries, and valets (all much in evidence at this stage) 
they have termed the problem "The Flunky Puzzle" and left it at that. 

It is not to be supposed however that this problem will baffle us for 
long. Indeed, we know already that our choice lies, broadly speaking, 
between two alternative explanations, with the proviso that we may possibly 
end by accepting both. One guess has been that the flunkies are really 
gunmen forming an impenetrable bodyguard. The other guess is that the 
millionaire has bought up an entire secret society and one against which no 
other gang dare act. To test the former theory— by a carefully staged 
holdup— would be relatively simple. At the cost of a life or two the fact 
could be established beyond all reasonable doubt. To test the latter theory 
would need more brains and possibly more courage. With several casualties 
already among the brave dog-bitten members of our team, we did not feel 
justified in pursuing this line of research. We concluded that we had 
neither the men nor the funds to complete the investigation. Having since 
received timely aid from the Miss Plaste Trust (Far East branch) we hope to 
know the answer fairly soon. 

A problem that remains, even after the publication of our interim 
report, is the enigma of Chinese tax evasion. 98 All that we could discover 
about this was that Western methods are not widely used. As is well known, 
the Western technique depends on discovering the standard delay (or S.D., as 


we call it among ourselves) in the department with which we have to deal. 
That is, of course, the normal lapse of time between the receipt of a letter 
and its being dealt with. It is, to be more exact, the time it takes for a 
file to rise from the bottom of the in-tray to the top of the pile. 
Supposing this to be twenty-seven days, the Western tax evader begins his 
campaign by writing to ask why he has received no notice of assessment. It 
does not matter, actually, what he says in the letter. All he wants is to 
ensure that his file, with its new enclosure, will be at the bottom of the 
heap. Twenty-five days later he will write again, asking why his first 
letter has not been answered. This sends his file back to the bottom again 
just when it was almost reaching the top. Twenty- five days later he writes 
again. ... So his file is never dealt with at all and never in fact comes 
into view. This being the method known to us all, and known to be 
successful, we naturally concluded that it was known also to the Chinese. We 
found, however, that these is no S.D. in the East. Owing to variations in 
climate and sobriety, the government departments lack that ordered rhythm 
which would make them predictable. Whatever method the Chinese use, it 
cannot depend upon a known S.D. 

To this problem we have, it should be emphasized, no final solution. 
All we have is a theory upon the validity of which it would be premature to 
comment. It was put forward by one of our most brilliant investigators and 
can be described as no more than an inspired guess. According 99 to this 
supposition the Chinese millionaire does not wait for his assessment, but 
prefers to send the tax collector a check in advance for, say, $329.83. A 
covering note refers briefly to earlier correspondence and a previous sum 
paid in cash. The effect of this maneuver is to throw the whole 
tax-collecting machine out of gear. Disorganization turns to chaos when a 
further letter arrives, apologizing for the error and asking for 
twenty-three cents back. Officials are so perturbed and mystified that they 
produce no response of any kind for about eighteen months— and another 
check reaches them before that period has elapsed, this time for $167.42. In 
this way, the theory goes, the millionaire pays virtually nothing and the 
inspector of taxes ends in a padded cell. Unproved as this theory may be, it 
seems worthy of careful investigation. We might at least give it afrial. 


OF THE MANY problems discussed and solved in this work, it is proper 
that the question of retirement should be left to the last. It has been the 
subject of many commissions of inquiry but the evidence heard has always 
been hopelessly conflicting and the final recommendations muddled, 
inconclusive, and vague. Ages of compulsory retirement are fixed at points 
varying from 55 to 75, all being equally arbitrary and unscientific. 
Whatever age has been decreed by accident and custom can be defended by the 
same argument. Where the retirement age is fixed at 65 the defenders of this 
system will always have found, by experience, that the mental powers and 
energy show signs of flagging at the age of 62. This would be a most useful 


conclusion to have reached had not a different phenomenon been observed in 
organizations where the age of retirement has been fixed at 60. There, we 
are told, people are found to lose their grip, in some degree, at the age of 
57. As against that, men whose retiring age is 55 are known to be past their 
best at 52. It would seem, in short, that efficiency declines at the age of 
R minus 3, irrespective of the age at which R has been fixed. This is an 
interesting fact in itself but not 101 directly helpful when it comes to 
deciding what the R age is to be. 

But while the R— 3 age is not directly useful to us, it may serve to 
suggest that the investigations hitherto pursued have been on the wrong 
lines. The observation often made that men vary, some being old at 50, 
others still energetic at 80 or 90, may well be true, but here again the 
fact leads us nowhere. The truth is that the age of retirement should not be 
related in any way to the man whose retirement we are considering. It is his 
successor we have to watch: the man (Y) destined to replace the other man 
(X) when the latter retires. He will pass, as is well known, the following 
stages in his successful career: 

1 . Age of Qualification — Q 

2. Age of Discretion = D (Q + 3) 

3. Age of Promotion = P (D + 7) 

4. Age of Responsibility = R (P + 5) 

5. Age of Authority = A (R + 3) 

6. Age of Achievement = AA (A + 7) 

7. Age of Distinction = DD (AA + 9) 

8. Age of Dignity = DDD (DD + 6) 

9. Age of Wisdom = W (DDD + 3) 

10. Age of Obstruction = 00 (W + 7) 

The above scale is governed by the numerical value of Q. Now, Q is to 
be understood as a technical term It does not mean that a man at Q knows 
anything of the business he will have to transact. Architects, for example, 
pass some form of examination but are seldom found to know anything useful 
at that point (or indeed any other point) in 102 their career. The term Q 
means the age at which a professional or business career begins, usually 
after an elaborate training that has proved profitable only to those paid 
for organizing it. It will be seen that if Q = 22, X will not reach 00 (the 
Age of Obstruction) until he is 72. So far as his own efficiency is 
concerned, there is no valid reason for replacing him until he is 71. But 
our problem centers not on him but on Y, his destined successor. How are the 
ages of X and Y likely to compare? To be more exact, how old will X have 
been when Y first entered the department or firm? 

This problem has been the subject of prolonged investigation. Our 
inquiries have tended to prove that the age gap between X and Y is exactly 
fifteen years. (It is not, we find, the normal practice for the son to 
succeed the father directly.) Taking this average of fifteen years, and 
assuming that Q = 22, we find that Y will have reached AA (the Age of 
Achievement) at 47, when X is only 62. And that, clearly, is where the 
crisis occurs. For Y, if thwarted in his ambition through X's still 
retaining control, enters, it has been proved, a different series of stages 
in his career. These stages are as follows: 

6. Age of Frustration (F) = A + 7 

7. Age of Jealousy (J) = F + 9 


8. Age of Resignation (R) = J + 4 

9. Age of Oblivion (O) = R + 5 

When X, therefore, is 72, Y is 57, just entering on the Age of 
Resignation. Should X at last retire at that age, Y is quite unfit to take 
his place, being now resigned (after 103 a decade of frustration and 
jealousy) to a career of mediocrity. For Y, opportunity will have come just 
ten years too late. 

The age of Frustration will not always be the same in years, depending 
as it does on the factor Q, but its symptoms are easy to recognize. The man 
who is denied the opportunity of taking decisions of importance begins to 
104 regard as important the decisions he is allowed to take. He becomes 
fussy about filing, keen on seeing that pencils are sharpened, eager to 
ensure that the windows are open (or shut), and apt to use two or three 
different-colored inks. The Age of Jealousy reveals itself in an emphasis 
upon seniority. "After all, I am still somebody. " "I was never consulted. " 
"Z has very little experience." But that period 105 gives place to the Age 
of Resignation. "I am not one of these ambitious types." "Z is welcome to a 
seat on the Board— more trouble than it is worth, I should say." "Promotion 
would only have interfered with my golf" The theory has been advanced that 
the Age of Frustration is also marked by an interest in local politics. It 
is now known, however, that men enter local politics solely as a result of 
being unhappily married. It will be apparent, however, from the other 
symptoms described, that the man still in a subordinate position at 47 (or 
equivalent) will never be fit for anything else. 

The problem, it is now clear, is to make X retire at the age of 60, 
while still able to do the work better than anyone else. The immediate 
change may be for the worse but the alternative is to have no possible 
successor at hand when X finally goes. And the more outstanding X has proved 
to be, and the longer his period of office, the more hopeless is the task of 
replacing him. Those nearest him in the seniority are already too old and 
have been subordinate for too long. All they can do is to block the way for 
anyone junior to them; a task in which they will certainly not fail. No 
competent successor will appear for years, nor at all until some crisis has 
brought a new leader to the fore. So the hard decision has to be taken. 
Unless X goes in good time, the whole organization will eventually suffer. 
But how is X to be moved? 

In this, as in so many other matters, modern science is not at a loss. 
The crude methods of the past have been superseded. In days gone by it was 
usual, no doubt, for the other directors to talk inaudibly at board 
meetings, one merely opening and shutting his mouth and another nodding 106 
in apparent comprehension, thus convincing the chairman that he was actually 
going deaf But there is a modern technique that is far more effective and 
certain. The method depends essentially on air travel and the filling in of 
forms. Research has shown that complete exhaustion in modern life results 
from a combination of these two activities. The high official who is given 
enough of each will very soon begin to talk of retirement. It used to be the 
custom in primitive African tribes to liquidate the king or chief at a 
certain point in his career, either after a period of years or at the moment 
when his vital powers appeared to have gone. Nowadays the technique is to 
lay before the great man the program of a conference at Helsinki in June, a 


congress at Adelaide in July, and a convention at Ottawa in August, each 
lasting about three weeks. He is assured that the prestige of the department 
or firm will depend on his presence and that the delegation of this duty to 
anyone else would be regarded as an insult by all others taking part. The 
program of travel will allow of his return to the office for about three or 
four days between one conference and the next. He will find his in-tray 
piled high on each occasion with forms to fill in, some relating to his 
travels, some to do with applications for permits or quota allocations, and 
the rest headed "Income Tax." On his completion of the forms awaiting his 
signature after the Ottawa convention, he will be given the program for a 
new series of conferences; one at Manila in September, the second at Mexico 
City in October, and the third at Quebec in November. By December he will 
admit that he is feeling his age. In January he will announce his intention 
to retire. 

The essence of this technique is so to arrange matters 107 that the 
conferences are held at places the maximum distance apart and in climates 
offering the sharpest contrast in heat and cold. There should be no 
possibility whatever of a restful sea voyage in any part of the schedule. It 
must be air travel all the way. No particular care need be taken in the 
choice between one route and another. All are alike in being planned for the 
convenience of the mails rather than the passengers. It can safely be 
assumed, almost without inquiry, that most flights will involve takeoff at 
2.50 A.M., reporting at the airfield at 1.30 and weighing baggage at the 
terminal at 12.45. Arrival will be scheduled for 3.10 A.M. on the next day 
but one. The aircraft will invariably, however, be somewhat overdue, 
touching down in fact at 3.57 A.M., so that passengers will be clear of 
customs and immigration by about 4.35. Going one way around the world, it is 
possible and indeed customary to have breakfast about three times. In the 
opposite direction the passengers will have nothing to eat for hours at a 
stretch, being finally offered a glass of sherry when on the point of 
collapse from malnutrition. Most of the flight time will of course be spent 
in filling in various declarations about currency and health. How much have 
you in dollars (U.S.), pounds (sterling), francs, marks, guilders, yen, 
lire, and pounds (Australian); how much in letters of credit, travelers 
checks, postage stamps, and postal orders? Where did you sleep last night 
and the night before that? (This last is an easy question, for the air 
traveler is usually able to declare, in good faith, that he has not slept at 
all for the past week.) When were you born and what was your grandmother's 
maiden name? How many children have you and why? What will be the length of 
your stay and where? What is 108 the object of your visit, if any? (As if by 
now you could even remember.) Have you had chicken pox and why not? Have you 
a visa for Patagonia and a re-entry permit for Hongkong? The penalty for 
making a false declaration is life imprisonment. Fasten your seat belts, 
please. We are about to land at Rangoon. Local time is 2.47 A.M. Outside 
temperature is 110° F. We shall stop here for approximately one hour. 
Breakfast will be served on the aircraft five hours after takeoff Thank 
you. (For what, in heaven's name?) No smoking, please. 

It will be observed that air travel, considered as a 
retirement-accelerator, has the advantage of including a fair amount of 
form-filling. But form-filling proper is a separate ordeal, not necessarily 
connected with travel. The art of devising forms to be filled in depends on 
three elements: obscurity, lack of space, and the heaviest penalties for 
failure. In a form-compiling department, obscurity is ensured by various 
branches dealing respectively with ambiguity, irrelevance, and jargon. But 


some of the simpler devices have now become automatic. Thus, a favorite 
opening gambit is a section, usually in the top right-hand corner, worded 

Return rendered in respect of the month of 

As you have been sent the form on February 16, you have no idea whether 
it relates to last month, this month or next. Only the sender knows that, 
but he is asking you. At this point the ambiguity expert takes over, 
collaborating closely with a space consultant, and this is the result: 109 

Cross out the word which does not apply Full name Address Domicile When naturalized and why Status 
Mr. Mrs. Miss 

Such a form as this is especially designed, of course, for a Colonel, 
Lord, Professor, or Doctor called Alexander Winthrop Percival 
Blenkinsop-Fotheringay of Battleaxe Towers, Layer-de-la-Haye, near 
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Lincolnshire-parts-of-Kesteven (whatever that may 
mean). Follows the word "Domicile," which is practically meaningless except 
to an international lawyer, and after that a mysterious reference to 
naturalization. Lastly, we have the word "Status," which leaves the 
filler-in wondering whether to put "Admiral (Ret'd)," "Married," "American 
Citizen" or "Managing Director." 

Now the ambiguity expert hands over the task to a specialist in 
irrelevance, who calls in a new space allocator to advise on layout: 

Number of your identity card or passport 

Note: The penalty for furnishing incorrect 
information may be a fine of 
&sterling;5000 or a year's penal servitude, 
or quite possibly both. 


full name 


maiden name 

Have you been 
inoculated; when & 





Then the half-completed work of art is sent to the jargon speciaUst, 
who produces something on these lines: 

What special circumstances^^^ are alleged to justify the adjusted allocation for which request is made in respect 
of the quota period to which the former application^"*^ relates, whether or not the former level had been revised 
and in what sense and for what purpose and whether this or any previous application made by any other party 
or parties has been rejected by any other planning authority under subsection VII^'' or for any other reason, and 
whether this or the latter decision was made the subject of an appeal and with what result and why. 

Finally, the form goes to the technician, who adds the 
space-for-signature section, the finish that crowns the whole. 


I/we [block capitals] declare under penalty that all the information I/we 

have furnished above is true to the best of my/our knowledge, as witness my/our 
signature signed this day of 19 (Signature) 

Photograph s^^i 

WITNESS: Name Address Occupation Passport _ , 

Size Thumb print 

This is quite straightforward except for the final touch of confusion 
as to whose photograph or thumb print is wanted, the I/we person or the 
witness. It probably does not matter, anyway. Ill 

Experiment has shown that an elderly man in a responsible position will 
soon be forced to retire if given sufficient air travel and sufficient 
forms. Instances are frequent, moreover, of such elderly men deciding to 
retire before the treatment has even begun. At the first mention of a 
conference at Stockholm or Vancouver, they often realize that their time has 
arrived. Very rarely nowadays is it necessary to adopt methods of a severe 
character. The last recorded resort to these was in a period soon after the 
conclusion of World War II. The high official concerned was particularly 
tough and the only remedy found was to send him on a tour of tin mines and 
rubber estates in Malaya. This method is best fried in January, and with jet 
aircraft to make the climatic transition more abrupt. On landing at 5.52 
P.M. (Malayan time) this official was rushed off at once to a cocktail 
party, from that to another cocktail party (held at a house fifteen miles 
from the hotel where the first took place), and from that to a dinner party 
(eleven miles in the opposite direction). He was in bed by about 2.30 A.M. 
and on board an aircraft at seven the next morning. Landing at Ipoh in time 
for a belated breakfast, he was then taken to visit two rubber estates, a 
tin mine, an oil-palm plantation, and a factory for canning pineapples. 
After lunch, given by the Rotary Club, he was taken to a school, a clinic, 
and a community center. There followed two cocktail parties and a Chinese 
banquet of twenty courses, the numerous toasts being drunk in neat brandy 
served in tumblers. The formal discussion on policy began next morning and 
lasted for three days, the meetings interspersed with formal receptions and 
nightly banquets in Sumafran or Indian style. That the freatment was too 
severe was 112 fairly apparent by the fifth day, during the afternoon of 
which the distinguished visitor could walk only when supported by a 
secretary on one side, a personal assistant on the other. On the sixth day 
he died, thus confirming the general impression that he must have been tired 
or unwell. Such methods as these are now discountenanced, and have since 
indeed proved needless. People are learning to retire in time. 

But a serious problem remains. What are we ourselves to do when nearing 
the retirement age we have fixed for others? It will be obvious at once that 
our own case is entirely different from any other case we have so far 
considered. We do not claim to be outstanding in any way, but it just so 
happens that there is no possible successor in sight. It is with genuine 
reluctance that we agree to postpone our retirement for a few years, purely 
in the public interest. And when a senior member of staff approaches us with 
details of a conference at Teheran or Hobart, we promptly wave it aside, 
announcing that all conferences are a waste of time. "Besides," we continue 
blandly, "my arrangements are already made. I shall be salmon fishing for 
the next two months and will return to this office at the end of October, by 
which date I shall expect aU the forms to have been filled in. Goodbye 


until then." We knew how to make our predecessors retire. When it comes to 
forcing our own retirement, our successors must find some method of their 
own. 113 

This ponderous gentleman, Mr. Cypher, whose stirring story may be found 
in the chapter on Injelititis, is pictured at the moment of his preferment 
for his "better judgment." C. Northcote Parkinson does not claim, by 
Cypher's standards, to have any judgment at all. Nonetheless, he is the 
Raffles Professor of History at the University of Malaya and the author of 
some seventeen scholarly publications. Born at Barnard Castle, County 
Durham, in 1909, he was educated at St. Peter's School, York, and at the 
Universities of Cambridge and London. In turn, he has taught at several 
academic, naval, and military institutions. Perhaps his most valuable 
education, however, dates from his work in the War Office and the RAF during 
World War II, for it is known that from this experience Parkinson's great 
Law came into being.